A Visual Pantser’s Guide to Plotting and Planning (Part Two)
You’ve got a fair idea of how you should go about plotting your novel (see Part One) but you’ve found yourself stuck, coming up with cliche twists, turns and ideas.
You sit down with a packet of felt tip pens, a large piece of paper and your main idea. You write it down in the middle of the page, surround it by a cloud and draw the first branch coming from the centre of the page.
Where to go from here? You think to yourself, characters maybe? What should your protagonist be called? You’re yet to decide whether or not he/she is male or female so you stick with an ambiguous name like ‘Sam’ (is it short for Samantha?) or ‘Jo’ (could be short for Joanne).
Okay, now lets look at plot. Plot is character revealed through action (Aristotle), right? You could stick Sam on a mountain with a quest to deliver an object to stop a great evil from consuming the world. That will show his/her courage… But is that a little cliche?
You start to doubt yourself…
Let’s scratch that last bit. What else could happen? What’s the worst thing that could ever happen to Sam? That gets you going for a bit, you start to blabber on about childhood trauma and distant memories. Good. Good.
But there you go again, getting stuck. You’re very tempted to give up on this whole ‘plotting’ business, you’re not even sure it would help. At least not at the first draft stage, perhaps later on?
That’s right; what’s the most ridiculous thing that could happen to your protagonist? Go from there. Or look at a question or two and think of ridiculous answers to them.
I’ll give you an example, let’s look at the last question I mentioned; what’s the worst thing that could ever happen to Sam? (And here let’s pretend Sam is the protagonist in a Fantasy novel).
- Losing his skate-boarding pet hamster.
- Getting locked in a cupboard with a clown, the only exit being through the toilet.
- Receive chocolate or a pet bird that won’t shut up.
- Get accidentally sent to […] on a technicality and found he’s never allowed to return home.
Now let’s expand on one of the things above, looking at the ‘why?’.
He could lose his pet hamster. The hamster was given to him by a friend who’d recently gone missing. It meant the world to him. Because of this he’s not going to be able to trust himself to care for someone in the future which will damage his interpersonal relationships and lead him to isolate himself from others…
And so on.
There we go.
The idea that the worst thing that could happen to my protagonist is him/her losing a hamster is rather ridiculous, but that’s the point. That’s what then allowed me to come up with other ideas that are less ridiculous which could then give me further ideas.
It goes on and on…
All you really need is one thing, one idea, to trigger you and a torrent of other (new) ideas, and then you’re off. By allowing yourself to come up with the ridiculous, you’re freeing yourself to come up with ‘good’ ideas.
Free yourself today; think ridiculous thoughts.
Do you use this technique or one similar to it when brainstorming? What’s the most ridiculous idea you’ve had for a story?
I searched for ‘ridiculous’ on Flickr and this (the image above) is one of the first images that came up. It’s weird and wonderful but I’ve grown fond of it; a great story lurks behind it. It’s by the talented Camil Tulcan.