How to Plot A Complex Novel in One Day (It WILL take all day)
Now first, I have to say, that the plot you’re able to come up with in one day is not going to be without its flaws, but coming up with it all at once, the entire story unfolds right in front of you and makes you want to keep going with it. So, where to begin?
What is your premise and basic plot? Pick your plot. I recommend just pulling one from this list. No plots are “original” so making yours interesting and complicated will easily distract from that fact, that and interesting characters. Characters will be something for you to work on another day, because this is plotting day. You’ll want the main plot to be fairly straight forward, because a confusing main plot will doom you if you want subplots.
Decide who the characters will be. They don’t have to have names at this point. You don’t even need to know who they are other than why they have to be in the story. The more characters there are the more complicated the plot will be. If you intend to have more than one subplot, then you’ll want more characters. Multiple interconnected subplots will give the illusion that the story is very complicated and will give the reader a lot of different things to look at at all times. It also gives you the chance to develop many side characters. The plot I worked out yesterday had 13 characters, all were necessary. Decide their “roles” don’t bother with much else. This seems shallow, but this is plot. Plot is shallow.
Now, decide what drives each character. Why specifically are they in this story? You can make this up. You don’t even know these characters yet. Just so long as everyone has their own motivations, you’re in the clear.
What aren’t these characters giving away right off the bat? Give them a secret! It doesn’t have to be something that they are actively lying about or trying to hide, just find something that perhaps ties them into the plot or subplot. This is a moment to dig into subplot. This does not need to be at all connected to their drive to be present in the story. Decide who is in love with who, what did this person do in the 70’s that’s coming back to bite them today, and what continues to haunt what-his-face to this very day. This is where you start to see the characters take shape. Don’t worry much about who they are or what they look like, just focus on what they’re doing to the story.
What is going to change these characters? Now this will take some thinking. Everyone wants at least a few of the characters to come out changed by the end of the story, so think, how will they be different as a result of the plot/subplot? It might not be plot that changes them, but if you have a lot of characters, a few changes that are worked into the bones of the plot might help you.
Now list out the major events of the novel with subplot in chronological order. This will be your timeline. Especially list the historical things that you want to exist in backstory. List everything you can think of. Think about where the story is going. At this point, you likely haven’t focused too much on the main plot, yeah, it’s there, but now really focus on the rising actions, how this main plot builds its conflict, then the climactic moment. Make sure you get all of that in there. This might take a few hours.
Decide where to start writing. This part will take a LOT of thinking. It’s hard! But now that you’ve got the timeline, pick an interesting point to begin at. Something with action. Something relevant. Preferably not at the beginning of your timeline - you want to have huge reveals later on where these important things that happened prior are exposed. This is the point where you think about what information should come out when. This will be a revision of your last list, except instead of being chronological, it exists to build tension.
Once you’ve gotten the second list done, you’ve got a plot. Does it need work? Probably. But with that said, at this point you probably have no idea who half your characters are. Save that for tomorrow, that too will be a lot of work.
After you’ve plotted the loose structure of your novel from this, see my next post to work on character!
i know lots of people get all hot and heavy for the ‘rebel/bad influence who goes after the goody goody/nerd to corrupt them’ but what about the reverse? what if the rebel was the one minding their own business when the goody goody suddenly started approaching them, asking them out, trying to get to know them. constant pestering and cute little quips that leave the rebel flustered (and a little flattered but don’t tell the goody goody shhh).
just picture it. initially people think the rebel is the one giving the goody goody a hard time but instead the rebel’s trying to avoid getting seen with the other a lot bc no you’re too pure and sweet you’re gonna ruin my punk rock image sTOP. but the goody goody just doesn’t care about image or labels they just know that they want the rebel and dammit they’re gonna get the rebel.
Everyone has their own strategy for this one, but it’s also probably the aspect of writing that we ask each other about most of the time: what do you do to figure out your plot? How do you stick to a plot? How do you know where a story is going? How do you stay interested long enough to finish? How do you keep from getting lost? For first time writers, this is particularly daunting, as we tend to think of a book–all 80,000 words or so–as overwhelming and more than we know how to accomplish, as something too big or unattainable.
Some writers sit down with a single idea and go from there, letting the story come as it may and waiting for the ideas to strike as they write. For many writers, this works. For me, it doesn’t.
My process looks a lot more like this:
Wait for an idea to strike (and I mean strike; it has to come to me, haunt me, bug me, until I’m sure I can do nothing but write it)
Plot. Plan out everything. Write it all down, outlining each chapter–what will happen in each and how many there will be.
Step One: There are lots of good ideas out there, and my notebooks are filled with ideas; ideas that occurred to me in the middle of the night, ideas I thought up after witnessing something in a park or listening to a good song. New ideas are exciting and can lead to great things, but I won’t turn any of them into a book until I’m sure the idea won’t go away.
I don’t write it down. That’s the first test; if I haven’t forgotten it the next day, or the next, or the next, then I know it might actually lead somewhere, that it’s not a fleeting idea that will tempt me and then leave me hanging. I let this go on for a month–yes, a whole month–and if at the end of that month, I still can’t let that idea go, if it’s still rolling around in my head, waiting to be explored, then I move onto step two. By then, I know that the idea and me are long-term, that we’re in this for the long run.
Step Two: I plot. I plot everything.
I start with the main arc: where do I want the story to start, and where do I want it to finish. In my most recent story, for example, I knew that I wanted the main character to begin cynical of love and relationships, and I wanted the story to end with him opening his heart to the possibility (even if he wasn’t yet in a relationship–that bit I’d find out later). I knew I wanted the three strangers at the beginning of the story to be best friends by the end. I knew they’d all start with some trauma, and I wanted them all to successfully be on the path to recovery and healing by the end.
Then I looked to time: I believe it’s important to know just how much ground, chronologically speaking, a book is going to cover. I needed to know how long my characters would have to experience the emotional growth mentioned above (the less time, the more the plot would have to directly affect them, the more intense that plot would need to be). I gave them the summer. Just three months to learn and get to know each other, which meant every day was going to count, and I wasn’t going to be writing a lot of moments skipping ahead in time. (If the story was to last five years, for example, I’d have a lot more room to build these relationships, and so things could unfold more subtly and with large chunks of time between.)
Then I look to characters: I write down all the main and minor characters (naming them is a good first step, though this can change later) and I write down both their emotional state when the story starts and what they’re actively doing with their lives, and their emotional state when the story ends and where they’re at/going with their lives then.
As you’ll see, there’s a pattern here: I figure out point A and point B. Then I make a list of little things I want to happen, different scenes that have begun to play out in my head, interactions I want the characters to have, pitstops no the way from A to B. And slowly, I build the story around them. I begin to figure out how we get there, which road the story is going to take, and little by little, the story comes together until I have an outline that looks a bit like this:
Chapter One: Opens in [setting]. Character A talks to Character B about [topic] They meet Character C. Ends with Character A realizing [topic].
And so on, until we get to the last chapter. In a way, this outline becomes a script, my go-to plan.
Do I always stick to the script? No. But when I begin to write, I keep that list pulled up beside my new blank word document, and I read it from time to time. Sometimes, once I get writing, once I begin to know the characters a bit more, and once the story finds a voice of its own, I go off script, and the story takes me places I wouldn’t have expected. But I always make sure I refer back, make sure that one way or another, I come back to to road map. It’s okay to take a pitstop on the path, to go off on a tangent, but the plot map allows me to find my way back to what’s relevant, to what I know has to happen to get from A to B.
For any writers out there who worry about making their stories big enough, who have trouble thinking of side plots, this is also a good way to map that out and see where your story has room to grow and what it can encapsulate. It lets you see just how big the story will become and if it belongs in novel format or if, perhaps, the idea is better suited for a short story.
To all the writers out there: how do you plot? Are you a planner or a wing-it sort of writer, or is there some way to write in between? Feel free to comment her or message with your go-to tips!
I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time writing when I have no idea what is going to happen next. I don’t need to know the whole novel, but I do need to know what happens in the next scene and/or at the next major plot point. While I’m writing, I like to know what I’m writing toward. It is not all about racing through the plot, but gaging the pace. I know I can write a nice long, slow scene if there’s something a bit more action-packed to follow it. However, I struggle with planning scenes ahead of time. Ideas for conflict don’t come to me regularly or even easily. So, here is what I do when I just can’t think of anything to come next.
First, I take notes. I grab my notebook and start writing down what I already know about the story I want to write. Everything. It can have names for characters, places, etc. but since we’re concerned about plot, try to focus more on the big picture project instead of details to draw out the plot. (I have to remind myself of this constantly). Familiarize yourself with the larger scope of the story. What’s important? How does that lend itself to conflict?
Work from inspiration. If jotting down more general notes does not spark any ideas, I turn to what tiny, glinting detail convinced me that I could write a book on this - it might be a character or a creature or a beautiful city - whatever inspiration grabbed your attention. Try to figure out what was attractive about this inspiration. What about it offers potential for conflict? For instance, if you are interested in writing a character who is caught telling a lie, you might want to consider what other things they’ve said that are likely to be untruthful.
What wild things might be more than plausible? This might be the craziest thing to try, but it can be the way to push your plot into the right direction. Start thinking of horribly awful things that you can do to your characters - or rather, things that you could put them through. Is someone accused of murder? Are they trapped in a blizzard? Let your imagination run wild until you can see something that might be a good fit. (It helps most to make a list.)
Okay, so, during the carry On countdown, I posted a composition for the Music day - a theme for Baz (here). It got a hell of a lot more notes and attention than i thought it would (lol thanks guys) and a lot of peeps have messaged me asking for sheet music. SO, as a sorta thank you for 1000 notes (fuck thats like amazing tho) I present some sheet music for ‘Plotting’!! (Transcribed during my free periods at school since i dont actually own the software at home lol)
PS. thanks @bazyounumpty for helping me how to hyperlink and do tumblr-y stuff (at lunch time during school thanks man love you <3)
EDIT: just realised that in bar 3 & 4, the bit it the right hand should be an octave higher (sorry guys first time transcribing something onto sheet music - and of course because I’m just such a awkward person I’ve put it in 12/8 time… SORRY
EDIT 2: fuck guys sorry bout this - the penultimate bar should be an octave lower in the right hand (it still works but I just think it sounds better and octave lower) SORRY AGAIN
Recently, I can’t stop watching this video (which I already loved) and picturing it as Eggsy dancing.
He was forced to drop gymnastics, and so he started dancing instead. He had to keep it from his mom, and from Dean, so everything he does is self taught. He practices in abandoned buildings, dancing to songs that speak to his situation - a closeted gay boy, growing up in the estates, avoiding the abuse of his stepfather and trying to do right by his mother.
So, now at 24, Eggsy’s this amazing dancer, and no one has any idea. Until one day Harry, staking out a potential safe house for an upcoming mission, stumbles across Eggsy dancing to this song. And he is profoundly moved by what he sees, at the talent this young man has.
He shouldn’t do it, he knows, but he follows the boy, wanting to find out more about him. And that’s when he sees him return to the Unwin flat and he realizes who this boy must be. Eggsy Unwin, who he had to tell his father was dead because of his mistake. And he becomes determined to make things right by this boy.
Cue a secret benefactor that gets Eggsy an audition for a major dance company, and Harry inevitably falling head over heels for Eggsy.
I have a few questions about subplots: How do you weave them into your main story line? What are some ideas for subplots that compliment the story? How do you come up with an idea for a subplot? Thank you for all your hard work on this blog and the wonderful amount of information you have provided to the writing community.
You’re welcome! I never know what to blog about so your questions always give me great ideas :)
Plotting the Subplot
So I did do a post about subplots like a year and a half ago, but I’m going to use this opportunity to expand on the points I brought up in that post and hopefully add some additional comments (and try extremely hard not to use the word “plot” too many times).
Dictionary.com definition of a subplot: a subordinate plot in a play, novel, or similar work.
Okay, yes, a subplot tends to be subordinate to everything else that’s going on, but I like to think that they also serve as diversions. They sometimes act as red herrings to keep us distracted from the main mystery of the story, and often times they appear insignificant when we first meet them.
A good subplot appears innocent, unimportant, unassuming…until we reach the pivotal point of the story where it all comes together.
Subplots can surprise us in the best possible way, because it’s often unpredictable yet totally, completely believable when we stop and think back to all the clues we might have glossed over before, because we were so focused on what we thought was the “real plot.”
How do I find my subplot/subplots?
You shouldn’t have to look too hard to find a potential subplot. They shouldn’t just be “mini-plots;” they should be born from the main plot. You think about the narrative arc of your story, and you ask yourself, how can I enhance it? How can I deepen it? When it comes to the climax or the big reveal, what could help give it more clarity or believability?
Let’s say you have a secondary/minor character sacrifice themselves for the protagonist in the climax of the story. A great subplot might follow an arc of that character that might explain why they’re able to make this sacrifice, or why they feel it’s necessary. A subplot also might explore the relationship between the two characters, so that this sacrifice is not only the climax of the conflict with the antagonist, but also the climax of their relationship. Without this character’s journey included in the story, this sacrifice might seem lackluster, or even convenient/out-of-the-blue.
Telling this other character’s story does not necessarily mean you use their point of view. Subplots can be told from any POV; in fact, sometimes they work better from someone else’s. If we’re seeing this other character’s story through the eyes of the protagonist, it stays relegated to the subordinate, ensuring that we pay it little attention until the moment it finally steps into the spotlight.
Basically, subplots should come organically. They should come to you as you’re figuring out the main conflict. Subplots are often the answers to side-questions that a reader might be curious to know more about, but the side-questions must have some kind of significance to the overall plot. Once you’ve chosen a subplot that stems from the main plot, you’re able to brainstorm ways to connect it more intrinsically.
Harlan Coben wrote a YA mystery series featuring the character Mickey Bolitar, and his cunning, clever friends. In the third book of the series, Mickey has a mystery surrounding the guys on his basketball team, while his friend Ema is concerned when her online boyfriend suddenly disappears. Mickey’s plot seems more important, simply because we’re from his point of view, but when the mysteries are solved, we learn that the two plots were actually more interconnected than we initially thought.
A subplot also might be the cause of something important later on, or it might serve as a parallel to the bigger problem the character must face down the line.
There was a comment on my last post involving subplots, where @jackalediting briefly mentioned the importance of Quidditch to Harry Potter. Quidditch is unarguably a subplot throughout the entire series, but the first snitch that Harry ever caught playing Quidditch ends up playing a key role in the final showdown in the last book. A smaller scale example sits compactly in the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry developing his skills as a Seeker served as a parallel to the task set before him beneath the trap door when he had to use a broomstick to grab one specific key out of hundreds. These are just a couple instances where a seemingly innocent subplot found a way to contribute to the climax of the story.
How do I incorporate them into the story?
If you’ve developed your subplot well, scenes surrounding the subplot should fit nicely into your chronology. You should be able to look at main events and think, “Well, this subplot scene needs to happen before this main plot scene, and you really need to understand this aspect of the subplot to appreciate its significance in this later scene.”
Rather than two colleagues working independently side-by-side, they should be working together.
If you’re at a complete loss for how to outline a subplot into a story, try writing your subplot independently first. Brainstorm all the scenes that contribute to the subplot, and then see how they might fit in to the rest of your outline. It might be more seamless than you think.
-I mean REALLY look at his hair
-it makes me uncomfortable
-look how sOfT it is
-they’re the color of the sky after a slight drizzle
-I meant DOWNPOUR
-the kind of downpour that people die in
-because Baz Pitch kills people
•the fact that he can speak several languages fluently meanwhile rubbing it in that he can speak Russian, French, Romanian, Swedish, Medieval English, and Mandarin and I can barely speak English
-I mean COME ON
-maybe it’s a grimace
-or a sneer
-but I know it involves teeth
-I want to break his mouth so he can’t smile
-that fUcKiNg sMilE
-he’s there all. the. fucking. time.
-it’s like he’s invaded my brain
-he’s taken my room
-but can I at least keep my BRAIN, thanks?
-actually, no thanks
-Basilton Pitch doesn’t deserve manners
-I will very forcefully and metaphorically take my brain back
•when he doesn’t talk
-because I know he’s plotting
-to kill me
-in a very maniacal way
•when he talks
-because he’s telling me
-how he’s going to kill me
-it bOiLs mY bLoOd
-our room smells like a fucking Yankee Candle store
-this is unacceptable
-they fit him like a glove
-why can’t he just wear suits?
-like a NORMAL muderous snob?
-they look so good
For any of you who have every watched Teen Titans from way back when you might find one of the characters in this familiar ;) but if you don’t it is still totally readable- I encourage all of you to follow this- great things to come!
Hawkmoth leaned back in his desk chair, pressing his fingers together contemplatively. Detransformed, he sat in the shadows of his office using the darkness to disguise himself as he prepared to answer the video call scheduled to come in any minute now. The situation with Ladybug and Chat Noir had grown tedious. His akumas had failed him time and time again and so it would seem that Hawkmoth needed more than an akuma at his disposal to defeat the infuriating adolescent duo. Hawkmoth had done his research, looking far and wide for just the right person for the job and he had finally found someone with the kind of remarkable skill set he required.
The beeping from his computer brought his attention back to the screen. Hawkmoth clicked on the answer key before settling back into his chair. On the screen sat a shadowed figure in a seemingly dark and plain room. Hawkmoth smirked to himself. I guess evil minds think alike.
“Fancy meeting you here, come here often?” The man’s raspy voice sounded through the computer’s speakers in fluent French.
“I’ve heard many things about your particular skill set,” Hawkmoth’s voice stayed even and serious. All business.
“What can I say, word gets around,” He said playfully.
“I have to say I’m quite… interested…” Hawkmoth said slowly.
“I’ve got a lot of people interested, what makes this job so worthy of my talents?” He snorted. Hawkmoth smiled knowingly.
“Oh I think you will find this job particularly … challenging,” Hawkmoth taunted. The man leaned forward in his chair.
“I’m listening,” He rasped. Hawkmoth grinned wickedly. How the simple minded were so easily manipulated.
“Have you ever been to Paris M. X?” Hawkmoth began. The man smiled slightly before letting out a low dark laugh.
“You could say I’ve spent some time there before,” He said coyly.
“Well in the past year Paris has developed a bit of a… hero problem you could say. There are two heroes who go by the names of Ladybug and Chat Noir,” Hawkmoth started to explain.