When it comes to plotting, the conventional wisdom is to play the “What If?” game. As in: What if this were to happen, or this, or this? But that only works when you can come up with those What If? scenarios. When your “What If?” well has run dry, try one of these plot hacks:
This is a fun one. Watch three films based on bestselling novels in your genre. While you watch, write down what happens in every scene. That is, the beats of the story. As in Jaws: Young people having fun on the beach; young woman runs into the ocean; young woman is caught and dragged to her death screaming, etc.
Do this three times for three movies, and you should soon be swimming in plot ideas….
Let your fingers do the plotting…. Get yourself a deck of tarot cards or storytelling cards. (There are many decks, apart from the classic Rider-Waite Tarot. Note: I have many decks; my new faves are the Hero’s Journey Dream Oracle, the Wise Dog Tarot, and the Literary Witches Oracle.
Pull a card and ask yourself how you could weave that element into your plot. Ask yourself what plot ideas come to mind when you pull the Death card, the Star card, the Quest card, etc.
Play cards—and plot away!
The Worst Possible Thing
Playwright George Abbott used this formula for the three-act structure: “In the first act, get your hero up a tree; in the second act, throw stones at him, and in the third act, get him down safely.”
The rocks should get bigger as the story progresses. The way to bigger rocks? Ask yourself after every story beat: What’s the worst that could happen? And make that happen. Go silly, go dramatic, go over-the-top with your worst possible things. There’s plot gold in there.
Believe it or not, the tropes for Hallmark movies are so entrenched by now that viewers get together and play Hallmark Bingo. They download one of the many Hallmark Bingo cards available on the internet, and as they watch a movie they look out for certain elements to appear that are marked on their cards. As in: Christmas party, baked goods, handsome veterinarian, etc.
What are the tropes in your genre? Make up own your bingo card with those tropes. Now, how can you reinvent those tropes, and breathe fresh life into them? That’s plotting….
With these story tools, plotting is just a hack away. Have fun with it, and happy plotting!