Here’s the link to: Plotting your success novel- Part 1
Now, let us share some of the tips, tricks, techniques and plot-hacks that we have picked up over the years.
Plotting Tip 1 – The Goal Pick and Mix
As you can see from the two examples, they are a bit vague. This means that you should flesh it out a bit.
Let’s make a story for you.
Mary, who excelled at computer programming at school, has focused all her energy on building a career. She has now realized that a career is not the same thing as a life. She is aware of the fact that her biological clock is slowing down fast. Now, she wants a life and love.
That is a great starting point. (Humbly patting my own back!)
Unless you plan to join Mary and the Mad Hatter in Holy Matrimony, you will have to add some more people to her life. She did not become a computer nerd because of the absence of people in her life, but rather exactly because of the presence of people who she allowed to shape her.
Mary has a bed-ridden mother whose bitterness has turned her into a manipulator that is pathologically self-centered. (Writing tip: Don’t use words like ‘pathologically’ if you do not know what it means.)
You can throw in an obvious love interest, a character flaw, a successful and patronizing older sibling, etc.
At this point we have already progressed significantly. From a lonely girl who wants love to a lonely girl with specific problems and challenges who wants love!
Once you have a goal, you have the backbone of the skeleton. You can now add the ribs, legs and other parts in an ordered way.
Plotting Tip 2 – The Foreclosure
What will happen to Mary if she does not find love? She will become a world renowned computer programmer who creates the blue prints for designing viable artificial intelligence. For this she receives a Nobel Prize, an Oscar and a Grammy. In short, she will experience unimaginable success and become very rich in the process.
Immediately you can see that this is not something that will drive Mary in her quest.
You need to show what Mary will lose. She fears that she will become a bitter person like her mother but without a dutiful daughter to look after her. We all know about the fear of ending up with the same deficiency as a parent.
I will never be like that! I will never lose my temper at nothing! I will never be so close minded! These are some things that could go through Mary’s mind.
This kind of psychological fear is something that can drive your character in her quest.
If there is no danger, no disaster facing your hero or heroine, what will motivate them? How will they be compelled to set out on the perilous journey of self development?
Plotting Tip 3 – The Checklist
What is required for Mary to move from an unfulfilled careerist to a fulfilled person? We all know that her journey is more about self-discovery and development than finding a sex partner.
You have to introduce these challenges in a natural way. Perhaps another character points out how she can never look someone in the eyes. It is unlikely that a character will come up with an actual list from an internet-based personality test!
The potential disaster that hangs over your character provides the tension needed to keep the readers interested. If there is no tension and also no anticipation, what will motivate the reader to keep on reading?
Plotting Tip 4 – Checking the List
Find ways for Mary to overcome her own challenges and develop as a person. How will she deal with the challenge of her bed-ridden mother? Will she ship her off to an old age home, or…
What will she do about her inability to look someone in the eyes? How will she overcome her extreme shyness or inability to make small talk?
It is clear that Tip 3 and Tip 4 are interconnected. Be careful not to overplay these mini-quests. Sure, it is very important that Mary learns how to make small talk but does it really deserve a chapter?
Plotting Tip 5 – Investments and Returns
What will it cost Mary to achieve her goals? What sacrifices will she have to make? What is the price she will have to pay? These are more tools to involve your readers emotionally with your characters.
Does she give up her high paying job? Is she willing to face the scorn of her mother and siblings by sending the old lady to Shady Pines Home for Difficult Relatives?
Sending her mother away might free up a lot of time. She might take up the flute. The obvious return might be that she marries the teacher or another student. However, the return on investment might be indirect.
She learns to play the flute and acquires some interpersonal skills.
Plotting Tip 6 – The End
Your story must end sometime. Make sure that you tie up the loose ends. We are not talking about solving all her problems. Mary and her mother don’t need to become friends, but what is their new relationship like?
Mary can still not look someone in the eyes but she is coping.You can not create a Plot Problem and not solve it. This will leave your readers frustrated, and perhaps, unwilling to read about Mary: The Sequel
A plot is very important, but do not turn your plot into a recipe. Look at Harlan Coben‘s books for example. The guilty person is always the one character you would never have expected. Who can it most definitely not be? Grandma! Well then it is her!
If you are old enough to remember life before the Internet, you might remember Louis L’Amour. Loner who is good with a gun. A pretty girl in a difficult situation. A bad guy who is nearly as good. Loner gets shot. Lies under a bush. Traps rabbits and drinks dew. Gets better. Revenge. Gets the girl.
Sure, these two authors made millions, but they could have made much more if they were willing to be a bit more creative!
Oh yes, and by the way, about Mary. She learned a whole bunch of life skills from her flute teacher and pottery instructor. She realized that happiness does not come from being a couple. First she must be a whole person herself.