This article is for YOU if you write fiction, and hate plotting. I’m a reformed pantser myself, so I’m with you: plotting can be an enormous challenge. These fiction tips will help.
Plots start with the seed of an idea. Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. Ideas for your plots are everywhere. Sadly, an idea isn’t a complete plot.
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As Google points out, a plot is: “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” Many writers get a great idea, write three chapters and stop. Ideas have a way of losing steam because they’re merely seeds.
What if You Could Find Plots Ready-Made?
It would be lovely if a plot were handed to you. They can be, if you know where to look. Shakespeare wasn’t big on original plots. As Shakespeare Online says: “With the exception of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest, which are wholly original stories, Shakespeare borrowed his plots, down to fine detail.” If the bard can do it, you can too. 🙂
Let’s look at some sources for ready-made plots.
1. History: Hilary Mantel Grabbed Thomas Cromwell.
If you love history, you’ll find millions of plots, ready-made. Just find a person who intrigues you. Hilary Mantel did, and the third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy was due for publication in 2015. She missed that date, and eager fans (including me) are forced to wait.
I’m a huge Hilary Mantel fan; I love Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies even thought she writes in third person, present tense. This is a very up-close and personal third person. I usually hate this kind of authorial affectation, but for whatever reason, in these two books it works. It’s transparent — I got half-way through Wolf Hall, before I got confused with the pronouns in a paragraph and realized what she was doing… the woman can write.
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OK, digressions aside, history abounds in plots. Writers use idea from history daily, in books, movies and TV series. If you’re a fan of the TV series Vikings for example, you know that this is the saga of the Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok. And of course, the Game of Thrones is a masterful adaptation of the Wars of the Roses.
If you choose to crab inspiration from history for your fiction, you’re in wonderful company.
2. Fairy Tales: Cinderella’s a Ready-Made Romance.
Fairy tales are sources for plots too. Poor old Cinderella’s story has been re-imagined by Disney, and by thousands of writers. It’s a ready-made romance. You could set it in the present day, or at any period in history.
How about story of the Three Little Pigs as a political satire? That would work.
3. Tales From the Gossip Columns… Romans à clef.
If you love celebrity gossip, you could consider a roman à clef.
Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics is a classic example of a roman à clef, a novel in which real people are disguised as fictional characters.
Ideally, when you write a roman à clef you’ll disguise your real people so cleverly that no one will ever know that your story’s based on real life.
Public Domain Sources for Plots: Be Careful.
“Disguising” brings us to a discussion of copyright. Generally speaking, any book which was published before 1923 is out of copyright, and its characters are fair game. This is why you see so many novels derived from Jane Austen’s books on Amazon. Jane’s world is open to anyone who wants to write about Austen’s characters.
However this is not always true. An example: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan character. If you want to create a plot based on a book which appears to be in the public domain, check carefully that no extant copyrights apply.
Have fun looking for ready-made plots. If you’ve ever wanted to write a story about someone like a modern-day Anne Boleyn, go right ahead. That would be fun. “Billionaire” romances are still hot, so what if there were this billionaire, who’d managed to eliminate five wives, in one way or another. Then… Heh, I’d better stop right here. I’m getting intrigued by this despite myself. 🙂
Have fun with this. Ready-made plot inspirations are everywhere.
A final tip…
Read nonfiction. I’ve always found nonfiction much more useful than fiction for finding inspirations for plots and characters. Have fun. 🙂
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Updated: December 20, 2016