Monday, November 17, 2014

Puzzling Over Plots, Part 1 of 3: Beginnings

The plot thickens...eventually. Novel writers need an idea to start with first. Let's say that you have your idea--one that inspires you (you better love it or you'll tire of it), has unique elements, and marketability. Now what? Let's think Beginning, Middle, and End-- with today's focus on the beginning.

One good way to put a puzzle together is to start by turning all the pieces topside. For our plot analogy, we need to visualize or imagine the pieces that make up the story. Take a few notes because this is no easy puzzle. Where is the story set? What characters do you know you will need, and what are they like? What theme do you wish to convey?Which event propels your main character into her initial action toward achieving her goal? What are the pieces you know you will need, even if you don't yet know where the pieces will go? Write down everything that comes to mind.

We might sort the puzzle pieces next into colors that go together, or begin the structure by finding the edge pieces. Start sorting out the things you know you want to happen in your story by putting them in the order that makes the most sense for now. A few will be shuffled around later on. For example, if your main character's goal is to have his horse win the championship race, you know that training comes in early. Put as many of the things that you wrote down into an order. This is a loose outline--whether or not you consider yourself an outliner. This planning step will save time later.

Now you want to put a few pieces together on paper. Go ahead and write those scenes that you've been dying to start on, the ones you already visualize strongly. It's like putting one section of the puzzle together. It doesn't matter yet how this section will connect to another. It's stimulating to see something emerge, to show progress. Yes, pieces of the section will still be missing, but you're writing! Remember, this is a rough draft.

For those who like more structure to their outline before writing, there are all kinds of helps beyond the scope of this post. Time spent gaining knowledge will save time in the long run. Other writers have written good stories with strong plots without using any certain story structure formula. You may have taken some classes or read enough stories to recognize some basic steps. Plot beginnings will include something that happens to make your character want something she doesn't have. This is her first goal. Keep this in mind and start writing. If you later decide that the scene where the boy buys the horse is not the best beginning, you can fix or cut that later. You will have both learned backstory that may be worth weaving into the novel, and practiced your writing skills. 

When I wrote Secrets of the King's Daughter, I started with a scene that was vivid in my mind--the scene where King Lamoni's daughter learns she was offered as a wife to "an enemy", Ammon the Nephite. For a long time I thought it was my beginning chapter, but no. New ideas developed and I learned what my plot needed after figuring more things out. I didn't have to toss it, just insert earlier scenes.

In summary, start with the pieces that you imagine and begin writing them down, first as notes and then as scenes. My next post will consider the end of the story. Part three will discuss middles. Until then, happy writing! 


Rebecca Jamison said...

I've never thought of the plot this way before.I like the comparison to a puzzle and putting together the easiest pieces first.

Renae Mackley said...

Thanks, Becky. Glad you got something from another way to look at it.

Dr. kold_kadavr_flatliner, MD, the sub/dude said...
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kbrebes said...

I have never read your book, but I am excited to read it, Renae!