Creating Plot From Scratch
The principle problem with wanting to write stories is that, at some point, you actually have to start writing one. As most people know, getting any project off the ground can often be the hardest part. Whether it’s building a shed or writing a short story it can be hard to know where to start. What will it look like? What should I do first? How will I know that I’m ready to begin? What resources do I need? These are all important questions but they are also paralysing questions.
I mentioned last week that I was in a creative writing class and was working on a short story. I had decided that I would set my story in a fantasy world that I’ve been developing for a little while now (the same one mentioned in this post, incidentally). I’ve been having a lot of fun working on this world and I knew that I wanted to write some stories in it. The only problem was…well, what kind of story to write? I’ve got the setting, the culture, the races, the religion, all that’s ready. But what actual stories can I put in this thing that would do it justice? I was stumped. I had some vague ideas involving orcs and goblins and a human protagonist, but I didn’t have a plot. No rising action, no climax, no character development (no characters at all, actually), no drama, no MacGuffin, and no clue. But I did have one thing, one very essential, almost all important, thing: I had a deadline. Five pages due Monday. So I just started writing. I decided on a rough idea of a protagonist, put them in what seemed to be a good starting spot, and then filled the pages up with words. I wrote things that I thought were stupid, or too rough, or cliché’. The important thing was to have those five pages filled out by the time Monday rolled around.
After writing those five pages I didn’t feel any closer to having a complete story. I still only had an inkling of an idea. But I turned it in and forgot about it for a few days. Then I came back and read it again. Then I read it a second time. Then I got a piece of paper and wrote QADO on the top of it. QADO stands for “Quick and Dirty Outline”. Underneath it I starting writing down bullet points one by one. I knew that I wanted my character to go to this place next. So I wrote that down. Then I thought about what would need to happen to get him there. Then I thought about what he needed to do next, and how he would accomplish that. I laid the outline out slowly and casually. And I found something interesting: now that I had five pages to work from I suddenly was able to come up with all kinds of good ideas. Things I had written down on a whim suddenly became foreshadowing for a vital plot point. I random quip became the beginnings of a character arc. The more I thought about it the more excited I became. Now I’ve got five pages and a strong idea of what the plot will be. I know where I want to go now. I’m actually looking forward to writing the rest of it.
It all came down to getting those five pages out. Once I had a rock to build my story on the brainstorming became so much easier. G.K. Chesterton wrote once about two men who sat at a crossroads: one thought all paths were equally bad, and one thought all paths were equally good. Neither one could move because of it. This was my situation. I knew I could build my story anywhere and make it about anything; so naturally I was paralysed with indecision. Once I had laid out a few pages my options became limited. I must now make the story in such a way that it comes naturally from the pages I have written. I have a lot fewer choices, and because of that I am free to choose the best choices available to me.
So if you’re working on a piece of writing and you have don’t know where to start or where the story will go, don’t sweat it. Just start writing. It doesn’t have to be five pages, but get at least two down there. Then sleep on it, sit down, and try to work out an outline. If your first few pages don’t lend themselves to a good plot then you can change them, or try again. But whether they work or not they’ll get you moving and your mind thinking. That’s the important thing.