Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Easiest Plot Trick Ever: Open/Closed

Image result for images open signs
I want to share an easy tip for finding plot twists that work in your books.

It comes down to what I call open ideas and closed ideas. 

Whether you're just starting a book or stuck on what comes next, this is a simple way to discover what's best for your story - and for you as a writer.

First of all, I almost never move forward without thinking: What do want to see next? What would turn me on as a reader? What 'feels right?' 

Sometimes the answer comes easily, but when it doesn't I search for 'open ideas.'

Say you're writing a legal thriller about a woman named Jenny. She's a divorced mom and a teacher just living her life.

Somebody on the teaching staff is killed and Jenny is drawn into the investigation.

Okay - fairly straightforward plotting. But what next? At a point like this - if inspiration fails me (i.e. the perfect idea doesn't occur to me right away), I start going down dozens of 'rabbit holes' trying to think what could happen next.

James Patterson does the same thing, writing down all the different ideas that come to him - often choosing the most surprising one.

I haven't written down options yet. Maybe I should. I've just always worked this way, so I can go down lots of rabbit holes really quickly, discarding ideas that don't work and searching for new ones that might.

What I'm looking for are 'open' ideas. In other words, ideas that lead to more ideas and move the plot along.

So say our teacher Jenny is investigated for the murder - she's found guilty and goes to jail.

Image result for images closed signs
To me - unless you want to write a story about a jailbreak (which maybe you do!) - this is a 'closed' idea. It doesn't really lead to anything else. Jenny's just in jail. End of story.

However, if Jenny is a suspect and might go to jail, this is a more 'open' idea. Because it brings in new characters like lawyers, investigating cops, other suspects (Did her ex-husband try to set her up?), the emotional stress it causes her kids - and of course, her own living hell.

So Jenny being a murder suspect actually opens up more dramatic potential than her going to jail - so it's an 'open' idea.

Unless of course you do the jailbreak/Orange Is the New Black thing - in which case, go for it! It just depends on the type of book you want to write.

Most rabbit holes lead to dead ends. Because you realize, well if 'A' happened, that story arc would just end right there. No use doing that. It's a 'closed' idea.

So you keep going down rabbit holes. You go down the next one, following it in your imagination logically. If that happened, then this would happen, then this would happen ... then this and this and this would happen ... Think how every idea affects each character and the direction of the overall story itself.

Sometimes you'll find the perfect idea that really inspires you immediately. (Love when that happens!)

But it will often take more work. More rabbit holes. More thinking about potential outcomes (or causalities).

But when you find a rabbit hole (or idea) that leads to many different outcomes, there's more opportunities for drama there. So chances are this is a rich idea to develop.

There shouldn't be so many possibilities that it's overwhelming or confusing for you. It should make sense - but still have lots of potential for surprises. It should 'feel right' for you.

btw - this can work on a large scale, for whole plot lines. Or on a small scale for linking individual scenes. Whether you jot the ideas down or just run through them in your mind when you're daydreaming, try it out. I find it makes plotting much easier - and more fun!

Follow me @SLMcInnis - I'll hitcha back!! :) (Yes, I'm still trying to figure out how to put the Twitter widget on this blog. I'm not here for my tech wizardry - obvs.)