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Plotting - The Whole Body
When you get zapped from on high with a story you need to tell, your mind can go in a million directions in your efforts to get it down right. If you're the efficient type you probably have a notebook and pen at the ready everywhere you go. Or perhaps you're the one who grabs an old envelope and scrambles for a crayon just as the word rush hits your brain. But then, as all those lovely words and phrases, characters and scenes dash about in our imagination, another entity pokes its head in the door. Its name is plot.
Plot. What about plot? Are you sure you know what a plot is? Does every story need a plot? Well, succinctly put, a plot is a plan of action. And yes, most stories need one. What are the steps taken by the characters in your story that will tell the reader in a satisfying way what happened? Chances are what you're wildly scribbling in your notebook or on that envelope, is only the heart of your story. Now you must plot out the rest of it.
A Plan of Action
Many writers completely zone out when the development of a plot is heavily upon them. You can almost see the scorch marks from the Story God blazoned on their cheeks. While I understand this inner toiling, there's another plotting exercise that works quite well for me and you might want to try it. It requires the use of your whole body and I start with my favorite part, talking.
"Okay, little Snerdly's got himself up a tree with the neighbors nasty tempered cat under one arm. How the heck did he get up there and how's he going to get down?" I ask the walls. I ask the trees. I ask my inner child. I talk it out. I also make important hand gestures. You know, the ones that help you talk and think. I always start at the height of the action too. Once I've got the 'thing that happened' sorted out, like that incident when I was ten, I let myself relax a little and the story begins to ebb and flow around me.
In this story I didn't twist the plot until almost the end. When I'd finally talked, gestured and paced my way to this dramatic twist, I found that the before and after plot details fell more easily into place. The 'thing' that happened to my sparrow made the 'why' of the situation crystal clear and a story that would otherwise have been branded 'sweet' (ugh - the dreaded S word) had a surprising emotional impact that I didn't anticipate. I've even had letters from people telling me of the story's effect on them.
A situation occurred the other day while I was driving my five-month-old grandson home. I had to make a turn onto a road that changed the position of the sun on the car. Suddenly blinding sunlight was in his eyes and since he was directly behind me in the car seat, I couldn't do anything about it. It made me very anxious, so I started talking to myself. "Well, it could be worse. I could be stuck in four lanes of heavy traffic with ice cream melting in the grocery bag." And I went further. "Sam," I said to my tiny passenger, "what if you had a big sister sitting next to you, screaming that she had to go to the bathroom?" I cranked up the tension. "Suppose a fire truck came howling down the road heading in the direction of my house and I can see heavy black smoke billowing from the roof? and then...then...what if Holey Moley Man comes zooming out of the sky?" I made a zoom-zoom sound for emphasis. See what I mean? The plot thickens and twists. Moments later when we pulled into the driveway I had a story brewing.
So grab your story idea with gusto and plot it out. Talk it, walk it and twist it. Mold it like a piece of soft pliant clay until it perfectly expresses the story that you were given to tell. And if you try the whole body method of plotting, I hope it works as well for you as it does for me.
Susan is a freelance writer and children's author. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and Springer Spaniel, Gracie. She has three children and two grandchildren, the delight of her life.