Episode 52: Grabbing a Plot by the Horns


While I have no solid data to back me up, I’m often struck by how interested interviewers are in “what-if” moments. The author of a successful book sits down to chat (or emails answers) about their new endeavor, and a question almost inevitably arises about how the project was born.

I confess that I nose through such interviews, looking for some stroke of genius myself. But after reading the answer, I often feel a bit let down. Why? My guess is that we all want to find shortcuts and means by which we can capture the type of exciting ideas that other writers had.

I think you should read author interviews. They’re great for peering into the mind of a writer in your chosen field or genre. But there is no one unfailing method to get ideas or to turn those ideas into a great work.

That said, here are some common ways that authors get inspiration that may or may not work for you:

  • Immersion: Want to write crime dramas? Put yourself into the world of a criminal investigator. You’ll find that the more you study something you’d enjoy writing about, the more plot elements and characters shake out of the data.
  • Plot devices: Some of my ideas have popped out of interesting plot elements that I’ve enjoyed. For example, I love the intensity of countdowns until something bad happens in movies and fiction, and something that simple grew into a whole novel. Overused? Probably, but the point is to find new ways to use tried methods.
  • People: Holidays are great times for story building. You have groups of people together telling anecdotes about their lives. Don’t borrow too closely (for privacy reasons), but don’t overlook a great story about Aunt Hilda’s embarrassing foray into the world of acupuncture.
  • Purposes: It’s tougher for me to build creative projects around social issues, but many other authors do. Outraged by something? Find a way to turn it into a plot—just don’t be overbearing in how you present it.
  • Classics: Great works of literature are often in need of a good updating. Some stories are universal and timeless, which is why Shakespeare gets transposed to teen comedies and dramas even today. Look back, grab a great one, and go.
  • Scenes: Though rare for me, some writers rely on imagery for ideas. They see mountains, and suddenly they have a novel about two people trapped by an avalanche.
  • Drawing lots: For the truly adventurous, one method for coming up with ideas is simply to write out actions and places on slips of paper and then draw them out of a hat. Once you have your lists, connect the dots with a plot.

What ways do you come up with ideas for writing?

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One thought on “Episode 52: Grabbing a Plot by the Horns

  1. Pingback: Episode 57: Free Plot Ideas to Run With « More Novel by the Week

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