Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Plot

Kelly Simmons, Author of Standing Still & The Bird House on Plot

Kelly gave us great ideas on how to prepare the plot of our book BEFORE writing it so we don’t get 80 pages in & have to re-write it all.

On Plot: Ride the 7 C’s
Tip: Combustion and Coordination are most important

Most plot problems from beginning. Creating a premise with such interesting characters and high stakes will automatically inspire interesting plot and things to happen with combustion. Start properly vs. revise. Build tension. Create combustion plus conflict as it relates to premise. Look at your plot and see where you can add those what-ifs and extra high stakes.  The engine of your plot is your premise. Then combust it. Then add higher stakes.

Your book’s premise must answer these questions.
1. Where are we?
2. Who is the lead?
3. What do they want?
4. Why should we care?
5. Where are they going?

Example: Jason and Joshua are brothers who attend the same high school and learn of a Columbine-esque plot about to go down the next day. The novel unfolds over 24 hours when they must save their classmates. Now we have possibilities for more conflict. Make better:  Jason and Joshua are twins. They are in love with the same girl. Their Dad is a cop and comes to the scene. Jason doesn’t know Joshua has a gun. Mother committed suicide by gun. Twins have an invalid sister in a wheelchair and both want to save the sister. Com-BUSTED!

Action + Voice + Setting + Premise must all be coordinated together for your story to flow. Before writing, experiment with POV to see if a good fit for your premise. Exercise: Write down plot premise. Then write down opening scene in different voices.

Stuck in the middle? Add some conflict. This can get you out of that sagging middle we all dread. Change locale, add excuse for an argument, add a surprising situation. Kelly echoed Gregory Frost in emphasizing here the 3Ds of writing conflict: Desire + Danger = Drama.

Look at your characters voice. Strip out all prose/exposition and just look at their dialogue to see the beat of their voice. Flow their beat throughout the book. Step outside of your outline to listen to your characters as they grow through your book as they may change from your outline. Ie. Would this character do this or that? Is that true to them and their voice? Maybe it was in the beginning but not now.

Give the reader a character they enjoy. A character you sympathize with, a character who longs for something and then take away what they most want. Give the reader a character to enjoy – but not necessarily like.

Wrap up your novel in a satisfying way that serves the premise and reader anticipation. Tie up loose ends.

Know when to end. Is your book too long? Then look at where there is overwriting. End sooner if need be. Too many plot points can be too much – know when plot is done.
Tip: Where should novel start? Write the synopsis and elevator pitch first to find out.
Tip: To make your writing stronger brainstorm more and (over)write less.

What quadrant of writer are you in? Dreamer * Outliner * Non-Outliner * Doer.  Find a good combo of two. Ie. Combo of being a non-outliner and dreamer might need more of the “doer” in them to get the writing done. For me, I am an outliner and a doer but I need more of the dreamer in me to sit and “think outside the box” and be creative.

Different plots = Different Styles Some plots demand a particular type of writing. Ie. Thriller/suspense should have action first, scare readers early on, fast pace, punchy dialogue. Exercise to do: Write opening paragraph or page in different voices. 1st person, 3rd person, 3rd person limited, Omniscient, even 2nd person (very difficult! Hard to write)

Now plot on!


Filed under Plot, Writing Conferences, Writing Resources

4 responses to “Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Plot

  1. Another great post, thanks! I’m a Non-Outliner and a Dreamer so I sometimes have problems being a Doer. Other times, my fingers can’t keep up! Finding a more even balance would help me to focus more and get more writing/editing/revising done in a shorter amount of time.

    • I think its hard to manage however we write, Nicole – right? Its a challenge to keep us on the steady of path of just writing! I think could be more of a dreamer if I had more time to dream – always feel in a rush to just WRITE 🙂

  2. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday « The Author Chronicles

  3. Pingback: Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2011 » Two-Penny Words

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