Do you find plotting fiction challenging? Plotting is a basic skill for novelists, and seems complicated, but you can learn how to do it easily. Today, let’s look two tips which will help you to plot ideas for novels.
Many authors’ biggest challenge is that they’re not sure what a plot really is, so they tend to mistake ideas for plots.
Here’s an idea. A young woman is hired as a body double for a celebrity who’s been getting death threats. The young woman has the same hair, body shape, and facial features as the celebrity, so she’ll act as a decoy.
That’s just an idea. You can develop it into a plot if you wish. Consider plotting this way: look on PLOT as a verb, as something you actively do, rather than as a noun. When you look on plotting as an activity, you know that a plot takes a lot more than a single idea.
Plot ideas for novels that readers want to buy: 2 essential tips
We’ve just published the third ebook in our Selling Writer Strategies series, Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way, because plotting seems to be the single biggest bugbear for new (and established) fiction authors.
I’m fond of telling my students that plotting is simple: all you need to do is ask yourself for plots. Your mind knows how to do that. You “plot” constantly: you work out how to do stuff, and you assess the world around you for threats and opportunities every day.
There’s an entire worldwide industry based on plotting… the insurance industry. Your car insurer plots the likelihood of you crashing your car, or someone crashing into you. Your home insurer plots the likelihood and ways in which your home could be damaged or destroyed.
You know how to plot. Tell yourself that, and play “what if” games, just like the insurance companies do. 🙂
Here are two essential tips for plotting great novels.
1. Develop a plot from a word: go from a basic idea, to an interesting plot, fast
There are any number of “basic plots” books. Mostly they’re useless. However, they can be useful if you have an idea in mind, because you can free associate with them.
Here’s an example. Ronald B. Tobias, author of 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them offers you 20 “master” plots.
To show you the range he provides, here are ten of his master plots:
How to develop a plot, using a word…
His “plots” are just words. However, they’re evocative words. If you’ve already got an idea, you can play “what if?” with these words, and can develop a fascinating plot.
Let’s say you want to develop a plot about a woman; she won a lottery for a million dollars. The money will change her life. She’s 22, and has recently been fired from her job. Your basic idea is one of transformation. It’s an interesting idea. You could slot a novel stemming from this idea into any number of genres: romance, mystery, fantasy, paranormal etc.
You enjoy reading mysteries, so you decide that your lottery-winner novel will be a mystery.
Getting back to Ronald B. Tobias’s Master Plots, how would you apply the word QUEST to this novel? You could do it very easily. What if your main character was adopted? She now has money and power. She goes on a quest to discover her birth parents, and discovers that they were murdered… Her new quest is to find her parents’ killer.
Staying with your mystery genre choice, how could you apply the ADVENTURE trope? Your heroine has money. She could choose any number of adventures:
- Around the world in a balloon
- A voyage to find a lost Spanish treasure galleon
- Climbing Everest…
You can spin off a single word of Tobias’s Master Plots into a hundred plots, as long as you have a basic idea.
2. “Once upon a time…”: if your novel isn’t about transformation, it’s about nothing
Fairy tales are universal stories. Fairy tales make excellent plot templates; countless romance novels are based on Cinderella, and many movies too. (Pretty Woman is based on the Cinderella template.)
Reread a few fairy tales, and think about them, especially if you’re a new author.
Here’s why. New authors, and some experienced authors who are in a slump, lose their nerve. You can find dozens of one-star reviews of bestselling authors’ books of which readers complain that “nothing happens”.
Unfortunately, it’s VERY easy to fall into the nothing happens trap. It’s horribly easy to do. We create our characters, and we love them. So we want to be kind to them — and before we know it, our so-called plot is a whole lot of nothing.If your novel isn’t about transformation, it’s about nothing.Click To Tweet
I have a sticky note on my monitor, with FAIRY TALES! written on it, to remind myself daily that: if your novel isn’t about transformation, it’s about nothing.
When you’re building your plot, and musing on ideas, remember to plot for transformation. “Nothing happens” is the kiss of death for you if you want to sell lots of copies of your novels.
What to do now: think up plot IDEAS for novels, and plot your next (or current) novel
If you’re all at sea with your fiction, the above tips will help.
You can build wonderful plots from just about any idea — and the skimpiest ideas often yield the most exciting plots. Just remember that the word PLOT is a verb. 😉