Plot Ideas: Making Lists

Fall Bootcamp is almost halfway done. NaNoWriMo is fast approaching. Those of you doing one or both of these events are probably feeling the pressure to perform right about now! In my experience, keeping the ideas flowing steadily during the initial writing process is one of the hardest parts about the first draft.

Which is where my brainstorming lists come in.

I'll be honest, I don't remember where I first heard this piece of advice. I have a feeling it was in a writing class, but I don't remember which one or when! This is because I've used it about a million times since then, though, so that must be a good thing.

The basic concept is simple: generally speaking, the first solution you think of will not be unique. Nor will the second, third or fourth solutions. They'll be hackneyed, commonly-used plot tropes that will make you want to toss your budding novel out the nearest window.

But the fifth, sixth or seventh idea? Those might have merit.

So when you're faced with a plot obstacle, new character, sticky situation, motivational questions, or just a stalled draft, make a list of your options.

Start with the question you're trying to answer. This can be anything, ranging from "Why is my main character afraid of water?" to "What happens next?" to "Why is my villain so intent on kidnapping my MC?" or even "How does my MC escape the locked windowless room that she's just been stuffed into while handcuffed?"

Then make a list. Don't worry about how mundane your initial answers will be. At first you'll say things like "She's afraid of water cause she watched too many Jaws movies growing up." Which is fine, that makes sense. That's also something we've all seen before.

Think again, and write down a second answer. "She almost drowned one time." Getting more personal, but still something that's been done a lot.

Keep going through your third, fourth and fifth answers. By the time you get to the fifth, you'll be coming up with ideas like "Her mother was swimming when she miscarried her sibling."* That's the idea you want to run with (well, okay, not necessarily one that dark depending on how lighthearted your book is, but you get the idea!). The unique concept/character/solution that will make your readers want to know how on earth you came up with it.

And if you end up deciding that solution doesn't work after all? Well, you can always sit down and start a new list!

* Disclaimer: I nicked this idea from a book I read recently, cause I thought it was a really unique premise. Not going to tell you which one though, because spoilers!