Plotting: A Different Approach (and possibly easier) [GUEST POST] K.M Joshi

Written by K.M Joshi
Hello, fellow writer! Lovely day, isn’t it? Why don’t we learn a simple thing today? Perhaps plotting. Yes, that’s a lovely idea.
Many aspiring writers try writing without a plot (or a plan), and end up nowhere. While there are many people who think that pantsing (writing without a proper plot) is the best way to write, I still think that you should try both (plotting and pantsing), before making your decision.
Follow the steps I’ve written below, and you’ll have the basic plot structure in no time.
I’ll be using the Harry Potter series’ first book as step-examples, and the Ice Age movie (first one) as the final overall-example.
Let’s begin!

1. Understand what a plot is:

First of all, you need to know the plot’s definition that is used in this article. Generally, a plot is a set of fictional events arranged chronologically. But in this article, I’ll be using this definition: a plot is a set of recognized events and elements of a story. The events are the scenes of a story. They are the actions or episodes that drive the story towards the end.
Elements are the major things (usually physical, like a house or a man) that you find in a story from the very beginning to the very end.

2. Understand Elements:

Elements, as described before, are the major objects that are involved in a story. I define “major objects” as the objects that appear more frequently than the rest. For example, in the first book of the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts Castle, Uncle Vernon’s house, Hagrid’s hut, the characters (like Harry, Neville, Malfoy, Dumbledore) and so on, are the Elements.
You might ask, what is the use of Elements? Well, Elements are the very stones that you carve on. They’re the limitations that limit your plot’s movement. For example, Harry Potter did not use a lightsaber against Voldemort (although it would’ve been quite interesting) because it wasn’t available in the story’s list of Elements. He had to find a way to defeat Voldemort using the available Elements.

3. List out the non-living Elements (in less than an hour):

Before you begin, get a notebook and a pen right now. In this step, we’ll list out the non-living things only. However, characters that do not have a distinct psychological personality, like an orc, can be listed here, and in the characters’ list (we’ll discuss about it later) as well.
First, decide where you want the majority of your story to appear. Is it in a city? Or perhaps a forest? Or is it confined in a castle? First, list out each and every detail imaginable about the place. For example, in a story that takes place majorly inside a castle, we could list out the rooms, floors, places where the stairs are, places where the statues are, places where the secret doors are, and so on. List out everything about the place, you don’t want the protagonist seeing the secret doorway on the first floor, and using it on the third.
If you have any doubt, remove them. Just list down whatever comes to your mind. It could be anything. You could even add a spacecraft along with a troll! We’ll figure out which ones to keep, and which ones to remove later.
Ready? Alright, now program your phone/computer to ring an alarm after fifteen minutes, and list down all basic things (like castles and lands, not rooms or floors) that appear in your mind. Don’t judge!
Use the rest of the hour to list down the details (like the rooms and the floors) of the basic things you’ve listed. Simply create without analyzing.

4. List out the living Elements:
Simply, list down the characters (especially with distinct psychological personality, like a man, elf and such), and add full descriptions (physical appearance, psychology, imagined part in plot, backstory etc.). List down all types of characters, from a noble, charming prince to a spacecraft pilot. And give them a tag about what they are, like ‘prince’, ‘best friend’ and ‘musician’. You can take as long as you like.

5. Choosing the right Elements:
There are two determining factors that decide which Element to keep and which to remove: your ideas, and the amount of a certain type of Elements. First, if you’re thinking of writing a fantastic Science Fiction, and you’ve listed (the Elements with no distinct psychological personality) a spacecraft, an evil robot, an ugly alien that shoots alien-chemicals out of its mouth, and…a cave troll! You know which one doesn’t belong in the Sci-Fi Elements’ list.
But what if you’re uncertain? What if you don’t know what kind of story to write? Here comes the second determining factor: Amount of a certain type of Elements.
If you have listed a dragon, a robot, a witch, a castle, a lightsaber, swords brimming with magical powers, and a troll, you should definitely remove the robot and the lightsaber, because they are the minority. The others cover the most space in your brain, so it’ll be easier to write about the fantasy-themed Elements.
About the characters, you can simply imagine whether they fit or not. If you’ve tagged a character with long curls, tight jeans, meaty arms, and rings and tattoos all over his face, as the noble prince in a medieval-timed novel, well, good job! You have successfully wasted a page of your notebook.
After choosing the right Elements, you’ll have automatically selected the right genre and theme for you.

6. Using the Elements:

After you’ve selected the right Elements, you need to find the many uses and stories of these Elements in your plot. We just need to find out the reason why these things exist in your list of Elements. And basically, the reason could be anything you can think of.
For example, let’s suppose you’re going to write a fantasy story, you’ve listed an elf, a man and a sorcerer in your characters’ list, and a castle, a sword and a dragon’s lair in your non-living Elements’ list. What could be the uses and stories of these Elements? Well, perhaps the elf is stranded on the Land Below Seas (the land of men), and he can’t go to the Land Across Seas (elves’ territory). And the man is the only friend of the elf. Maybe the world of men does not accept the elves, and perhaps they kill one another at first sight. But the man you’ve listed helps the elf, because of some reason. We’re already making a story with only two Elements. Concerning the other Elements, perhaps a dragon had stolen one of the boats of the elves, and the elf plans to find the dragon’s lair, steal the boat and be off. However, he needs to fight the dragon, so he’ll need a Sword of Power, which he’ll find in the ancient castle of the Sorcerer. And so on. We have actually crafted a story that has a great potential.
Similarly, take some time to find the uses of the Elements you have listed.

7. Twisting and Probing:

We have already found out the uses of the Elements, and although they do tell a story with a few twists (like the feud between elves and men, and the elf being stranded), the twists aren’t quite enough. We need bigger twists that can make the readers’ jaw drop. Once again, here comes the use of Elements. What could be the twist? I’ll take the elf (from the previous story) as the pivot around which I’ll create the twist. What if the elf, who thought he was completely alone, wasn’t that alone? What if there was a she-elf* too? What if the elf fails to capture the boat, but he finds the she-elf nearby? And perhaps, together, they end the feud between men and elves?
Just brainstorm a bit, and you’ll find some good twists soon enough. Take some time, choose a few Elements, and list down the possible twists of every chosen Element.

* You can add an Element or two, as supporting Elements (not for changing the entire story). For example, you can add a she-elf in the Elements’ list, but you shouldn’t use this she-elf to replace the man or elf, but you can use it to add interest in the story.

8. Choosing the Right twist:

After listing the possible twists, you’ll have to find out which twist works best for your story. Usually, the twist that changes the entire story is the best one for it. For example, the story changes when the elf meets a she-elf. So this is a pretty good twist. Similarly, we could kill the elf’s friend (the man). That would be interesting too.
In the first book of the Harry Potter series, Quirrel turns out to be the one trying to steal the Philosopher’s stone, not Snape. This changes the story, so it was chosen as the Right twist.
The final decision is made by you. Can you write the scenes after the plot twists, without compromising quality? If you can, then choose the twist. If not, try another.

9. Beginning a story:

After choosing the Right twist, you’ll have created the basic map of a story. The next step is to choose where and how the book begins. For example, we could place the beginning at the man’s house, or the elf’s hideout on the Land Below Seas.
If we took the beginning at the elf’s hideout, we could write about the elf hunting in the nearby forest for some food. When suddenly, he spots a man lying on the ground. The man has a large wound on his body. The elf saves his life. So the man agrees to help the elf return to the Land Across Seas.
For every story to start, we need to find out why the starting point of the plot occurs. For example, in our current story, the starting point is the agreement between the man and the elf. This happens because the man is in debt with the elf.

An example: In the first movie of the Ice Age series, the starting point is when Manny the mammoth saves Sid the sloth, from the charging rhinos. This shows the morality of the mammoth. Then, the plot starts getting interesting when they find a baby, and Sid (also a good guy) thinks of carrying the baby back to the humans. And the plot turns even more interesting when there comes Diego the saber.
The main plot twist of this story is when Diego agrees to help Sid and Manny escape from Soto the sabers’ leader, near the end of the story. This happens because Diego owes his life to Manny (when he saves Diego from the volcano), and also because he starts loving the baby.
I’ve always loved Ice Age, because it is one of the best story to find instances of Plot and Elements. You can practice on it yourself if you like.

That’s it! The only step remaining is to write that story, and if you think it necessary, to add a few more details in the plot.
Have fun writing!

K.M Joshi
Twitter: @AuthorKMJoshi

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