Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Throwing Together a Quick Plot

Kate Burns

On Thursday, I have been asked, as a 'real author', to speak to my daughter's grade 3 class on the subject of how to take an idea and turn it into a real story.

Good question! But, like the class already asked, how?

Well, let's throw together a quick plot.

We'll start with a little Trouble.

Every good story starts, of course, with trouble. Not little trouble -- losing your car keys, or forgetting to let the dog out -- but Trouble. Like, say, if you lost your car keys in a bad part of town and found yourself running for your life as two rival street gangs open fire on either side of you. While delivering (stolen) diamonds for your abusive boss. That kind of Trouble.

The snowflake method is good for plotting. It's a good one for that nagging 'what happened next' question.

Basically, you write out a beginning situation: Martha gets up at four o'clock every morning to start her day's work in her parents' bakery. She slaves all day, quitting at dusk only to drag herself home and fall into bed, exhausted. Her chances of meeting a man with her head in the oven are slim to none.

And an end situation: Martha emerges as a heroine, having solved the mystery of the arsons in the neighbourhood. The blue-eyed fire investigator she sleuthed with has proposed to her, and she finds the confidence to break out on her own as a special events caterer.

An inciting incident: Four o'clock in the morning. Locks her keys in the car and is stuck outside in the alley behind the bakery. While waiting for a locksmith, Martha sees someone running out of the alley. She smells smoke, then all hell breaks loose as the tenement building next door explodes into flame.

With a dangerous complication: He sees her, too.

With some serious trouble in the middle: Martha is nearly cooked when her ovens malfunction. Is it a freak accident? Gross negligence that could cost her parents the business? Or an attempt on Martha's life?

Some serious sleuthing: She comes across a clue to ovenly sabotage, a motive, along with a few possible suspects.One of whom just started working there.

One Red Herring: The bakery's new cashier lives rent-free in a nearby warehouse, and is an anarchist. He believes home is wherever a person squats and would defend it with knife, gun or burn it to the ground before anyone else got to it. He's attractive, if a little high-strung.

An obstacle: The anarchist cashier likes Martha. A lot. She goes out with him a couple of times, only to discover that although he doesn't believe in ownership for property, he's pretty possessive regarding women.

And a twist: A little google is a dangerous thing: Martha comes to suspect the fire investigator of being an arsonist himself!

Or three: Trouble is, she's falling in love with him. And the cashier can see it, too. Whenever the investigator is around, she can't seem to shake loose her anarchist barnacle.

Weave in a Subplot: Martha's parents are not only not supportive of all the crazy things she's been doing, it looks like they may actually try to have her committed. It turns out her mother went through a 'crazy' phase in her own youth, only to have her dreams dashed and her heart broken by tragedy. She has been shielding her daughter from the same fate, by hiding her away in the family business.

And how about a title? Even just a working title: The Scent of Fresh Murder

Poof! A story! And all I did was start with a beginning situation, ask myself (or my muse) a few questions, and answer them according to some plot points I know I'll need.

And that is where I think I'll take those kids.

Stay tuned Thursday for what questions to ask while building a plot.

Happy Writing!
Kate Burns

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