For the past week or so the above quote has been very true for me. My mind has gone from a blank canvas and the momentary worry of "I have nothing to write about" to an ever faster spinning wheel which, at every turn, changes an aspect of the core idea I want to build my next novel around. It is an enlightening process. I consider myself by no means an expert, but in this post I will give you an insight into the tools I use to flesh out my ideas and come up with a potential plot.
The process of developing an idea is both rewarding and frustrating, because it produces no tangible results. I constantly feel like I'm not doing any work, even though I have typed up a few pages of ideas, and have hand written a few more. It's the time when my creativity is at it's most diverse. Nothing is certain yet and everything is constantly in flux, to the point that my vague plan completely changes at least once a day. Anything can set the idea wheel spinning, from the nice views on a weekend walk...
... to late night firework displays....
... to my daily track to work, a long shower, or a lingering dream when I first wake up - or one that slowly takes shape just as I'm drifting off. It helps me create lots of individual dots that, eventually, need to connect in order to create a story.
There are tons of blog posts that will tell you how to plot, from the snowflake method, to the 3 act structure. They are great tools if you are a planner, but if, like me, you are more of an instinctual writer who may need a rough structure, but is never quite sure where they're going until they get there, these approaches can be daunting. Yet, you may need something to help you flesh out those ideas and connect the dots. Here are some tools that work for me.
1. The Snowflake Method
I know, I just said that many of the planning methods can be daunting or just not work for you, but don't dismiss them completely. What I like about the snowflake method is that it goes from a core idea to the bigger picture. My core idea for the next novel that started everything was "A disgraced god needs to live out life as a human to redeem himself."
It was the concept I built everything else around, but instead of expanding on the sentence and turning it into a paragraph, I started asking questions: "Why is my god disgraced?", "What kind of life will he lead?", "Does he even know he is a god?", "How can he redeem himself?"
I find out a lot about both plot and character by asking myself these questions, and may end up overturning that core idea completely. In the course of the last ten days, that god has gone from being an evil mastermind, to a trickster, to a misunderstood rebellious son, and everything in between.
I love spidergrams! I have loved them since my first story-like essay in school. This is where my mind really gets going and where I get that basic structure I am looking for. To me, a spidergram becomes a path I can follow, but also one that is open for digression. I take a key concept and build everything else around that particular concept. Then I take the next concept and expand that. This one started with: "How do their powers work?", "What are their powers?", "What are gods?" and went into all kinds of directions from there, to the point that I had to make a new spidergram for one of the sub-concepts. It's a great way to brainstorm and connect dots that you may not have known existed.
3. What if...?
What ifs...? are at the heart of my storytelling. They are often at the heart of my core idea. What if there was a god on earth? The key to what if...? is to never stop asking. Once you have come up with your character, keep asking what if...? I have established very early on that my gods have powers, but what if they don't work the way I expect them to? or what if no one on earth believed in gods any more?
Never stop asking what if...? It can take your mind into whole new directions and add extra depth to plot, character, and theme.
Any book requires research, whether it's a particular skill for your character, a setting, or an abstract concept like religion. I never get all the research done before I start writing, because I don't know everything I will need to know in the course of the writing. But that does not stop me from starting early. Don't be afraid to look at the topic(s) of interest to you and see if they are feasible, or how to work around limitations. It's a great way to add some realism and to ensure all the crazy ideas floating around in your head are actually realisable. And it might give you new ideas.
5. 3 Act Structure
For me, the 3 Act Structure really only comes into its own, once I have most of the other things worked out. Once I have a rough idea of who I am dealing with, what kind of story I want to tell and roughly where I want to end, I look at my inciting incidents, what I like to call the Doorways of No Return. What will push my main character(s) into action and what, once we have built up to the climax, will cause them to actually follow through?
Of course, there are many more ways to flesh out ideas and come up with a plot. Every writer has their own technique and it takes trial and error to find out which one works for you. In a way, I am still in my trial and error period, but even if I change everything else, I have found these five steps are part of every novel idea I come up with. Perhaps they will be of use to you too.