Scott recently suggested that I put a monkey in my story. This was actually much deserved revenge for some suggestions I’ve made to him in the past with regard to his art. Although he certainly doesn’t need my advice, now and then Scott will be working on a painting and something about it is bothering him. It’s usually something that he feels he’s too close to and can’t see so once in a while he’ll ask me what I think is going on with the painting. Most of the time, I suspect he’s bored and just making conversation, but I’m always flattered to be asked and will do my best to help. If I’m not seeing it either, I usually suggest he put a monkey in the painting.
This got me thinking about plotting. It got me thinking about where the inspiration for raising the stakes, or introducing subplots, or deciding what to have our characters do next comes from. Authors are all over the map on this. Stephen King, in On Writing says that he absolutely doesn’t believe in plotting. He believes that stories and novels are made up of narration, description and dialogue. In his process, the germ of the story comes from a premise or situation and he is like an archeologist, who must discover what the story is.
On the other end of the spectrum are the more regimented writers who feel they must outline and tightly plot in order to complete a good story. In fact, King cites the English mystery writer, Edgar Wallace, who actually invented and patented the Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel. Not sure what happens next? Spin the wheel and see what comes up! Perhaps a surprise visitor or a declaration of love or a murder or a long lost relative will appear.
I like the idea of discovering story and of letting inspiration come from the subconscious, but I also believe that sometimes the subconscious needs a kick in the pants to get moving. A plot wheel, a magic eight ball, a maniacal ranting solo brainstorming session (my personal favorite), a long walk, inducing a trance-like state or creating a long list of “what if” candidates can all prove useful under certain circumstances.
Ultimately, whether we’re establishing these things up front, or discovering them along the way, we all need to come up with plot points. I’m still muddling my way through and trying to discover my own process, so I’ve tried a number of these methods with varying success.
Of course, if all else fails, I can always add a monkey.
What process do you use to come up with plot points or ways to raise the stakes and heighten the conflict in your stories?