Friday, December 9, 2011

Just So You Know...Plot Points

Yesterday I was being very good and working on my book. Problem is, I am stalled, big time. I don't know what happens next, and at the moment, I don't really care. It feels stupid, boring, and like hard, hard work. 

I know a big part of this is because I haven't be able to work on my book for about a week and half (you know how I am always going on about writing the first draft as quickly as possible? This is totally why.). But I looked at my outline and make a startling realization.

I had very few plot points. And of those, most weren't even proper plot points.

Here's the thing. You can totally put "learns to accept herself" on your outline. You really can. You can put whatever you want on there. But the reality is this really doesn't help you with your story in a concrete way. I put notes on my outline like that, but only to remind myself of where I want the character to be at that point. It does nothing for me as a plot event. 

Also? Settings do not make good plot points either. "Goes to a club and sees the evil monkey" doesn't really help you. You have the "sees the evil monkey" which is the point of the scene, but "goes to a club" really doesn't help you. I can almost guarantee that you will get to that point in your outline, and wonder what the heck the character is going to DO once they get to the club and see the monkey.

The really sad thing is I know this already. I know better than to jot down "sees largest ball of twine" as a plot point. But a lot of times while I am outlining I jot stuff down and never go back to add details.

Then I get to where I am now, where I have an idea of where I want my character to go, and what sort of emotional journey she experiences, but very little ideas in the way of the actual plot. So here's a friendly reminder for you:

A plot event is a concrete event that moves your character from point A to point b. 

Obviously this is a basic definition, but I want it vague enough that it will apply to different people's writing styles. The important thing to remember is a specific event. Like "Sally fights the zombies that have broken into the secret lab". Or "Jonathan kisses Mabel, and Denise walks in the middle of it."

Something happens. It's usually action oriented, even if it's not guns exploding and kittens being saved from a burning building. 

Hopefully this little reminder will help you guys in your plotting endeavors. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an outline to rip apart.

What litmus test do you use for your outline? Any hard and fast rules or do you just keep everything vague?  


  1. Vague. My litmus is always in the draft. I write, and when i hit a snag, I just choose a path (to stop is too painful). After about four pages, I know if I chose a viable path or not (notice I don't use words like "right" path or even "good"). If after four pages, I write without hesitation, it was the move to make. If those four pages are torture, then I scrap them and pick another path. I should probably outline more, so I have fewer leaps of faith

  2. Rena: I like that you don't use "good" or "right". I think it just depends on how you want to tell the story, and there's no "right" way.

    I like that you use your instincts. I need to do that more and that's sort of what I wanted to do with this draft, but I am realizing I need a little more idea of where I am heading.

  3. I like vague, but I'm no expert. Still working on my first manuscript. Good luck with everything Elizabeth!

  4. I have an idea what I want to happen, but always open to other possibilities as I go through. I had predefined plot points on my first novel, but it was how to get there that I struggled with, and how to make maximum impact without being overly dramatic. There's no easy way, that's for sure! Good luck with it :)

  5. The Desert Rocks: Vague works sometimes too, especially if you really don't have an idea of what you want to happen. It's better to figure it out as you go along, then randomly pick things out that might not fit.

    Nick: I sooo struggle with the "how to get there" part too. I usually know the main points but sometimes there's a lot in between that stalls me up.