Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Idea to plot

Before going into the three act structure, I wanted to give plotting ideas a thought. In the 1923 December issue of Writers Digest, Thomas H. Uzzell stated, “If you really “see” the idea, namely, understand it, I don’t think you’ll have much difficulty making it into a good plot. Understanding, remember, is not feeling; understanding is grasping a thing intellectually.” For full article check out The Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing which has a compilation of articles from 1920 – 1990 and is a good read.

When I read that statement it brought me back to high school. Remember that dreaded thesis statement? It begins with a topic—an idea.

Let’s say I want to write about the great Chicago fire. This is my idea but then it has to get flushed out. What about it? What do I know about it without going into research at this stage? It soon becomes a web of questions that I need to answer to even decide if it’s worth pursuing. Can I bring about a viable book from it? Can I have engaging characters faced with many challenges that ultimate leads to the fire?

Remember, the idea cannot be the sole focus of the story or you run the risk of it falling flat. This is what I’ve seen, even in my own work. The beginning is strong with a clear sense of direction, but then the middle falls flat and then I never even get to the end. To avoid all that time and energy lost, you should ask yourself if you can hold the reader, and yourself, for 300 plus pages. If you feel they will, and you can, by all means go for it.

While plotting ideas, I use index cards to write scenes. It usually looks like this:



Purpose of scene:


I do this even before knowing my characters. It helps me check if the idea could turn into a plot that works. And the best part of using index cards is that you don’t have to write them sequentially. You could mix the scenes around if you have to.

Do you have any methods you use to plot ideas?


  1. I like to ask: What has to happen before now for this scene to make sense? If I ask it enough times, (along with "What could go wrong?") a plot emerges like a dragonfly. Then I need to polish it until it roars like a dragon. ;-)

  2. Thanks for sharing Deb. I also read that some authors start with the last scene and work backwards from there.

  3. Great idea. I do something similar with an outline by chapter. Then it's pretty easy to swap chapters around as I seem to need to do.


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