Writing Books/Plot


Dear M.L.,
I have been writing since I was in 6th grade.  I am now 28 and have a family.  My problems are many.  I have been teaching myself how to write because I can't afford training right now so I read book on it, search the internet anything to help yet I still seem to come up short.  I have ideas for novels and short stories, I just cant' seem to decide on a plot and stick to it.  There's always so many more ideads and directions one idea can take.  Also I recently noticed that I tend to plot my stories by phrases that I want to use rather than by letting the characters take the story where it must go.  I don't know how to break this habit.  I don't know how to plot a story anyother way, I'm not sure what it is exactly that I should be focusing on.  I feel like I might not actually have a plot and I am just tossing a bunch of stuff together and hoping it turns out right, but it never does.  Simply put, how do I come up with a plot and then stick to it?

Hello, Kristie!

Use an "action only" outline to prepare your plot.  This is not the kind of outline you learned in school.

1) Purchase a package of 3x5 (or slightly oversized) ruled index cards.

2) Number them (in pencil, not pen).

3) Build your plot one action at a time.  For example, each statement below would be one card.  No details, environment, or dialogue allowed!  Action only!

1. A man is seen walk-running down a street at night.
2. The man rushes down the subway stairs to the underground.
3. The man glanced behind himself constantly.
4. His train arrives and he jumps on with a final glance around.
5. The train fills up and moves ahead.
6. See the man being jostled in the crowd.
7. The train reaches its stop and the crowd departs.
8. The man lies dead on the floor of the train.

Here you have just action outlined the opening scene to a murder mystery.  Do this with your entire project first.

Next, use your action outline to compose a working treatment of a few pages.  The treatment can contain a bit of environment and a snippet of dialogue, but not much.

Now, you are ready to begin to write your first draft.  You have a structure that allows you a great deal of freedom while you write your draft.  In using the cards, you will be able to switch them around and change the numbers on them until you have an action outline that suits you.

Kristie, there is much more to learn about how to compose a plot, however, I have held my answer strictly to the point of your specific question.

Good luck!

Youngbear Roth

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M.L. 'Max' Roth, Executive Editor


My specialist area is literary and philosophical fiction. I am pleased to answer all queries regarding story, plot, character arc and development, environment, structure, theme, subtext, and conflict.


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