5 Minutes a Day: Plot before the Outline

Before you try to outline it helps to have some idea where you are going.  You won’t immediately know every step in your plot but it helps to figure out some of the key moments.  These include the inciting incident, the climax and various turning points.  Since I’m currently working on a mystery, these have to do with things like Finding the Body, Jumping to Conclusions, Setting a Trap.

Once you know what these key moments are, you might also want to consider how to make them BAD.  One way to do this is with the setting itself.  If your character is afraid of heights, she ends up on a skywalk or in a tree.  If she’s afraid of snakes, you might force her to meet another character in the herpetarium at the zoo or perhaps beside a tank of baby boas at the pet store.

Other ways to complicate things is through characters.  Force her to confront her prejudices and they don’t have to be racial.  Maybe she has to deal with kids from the enemy school or someone who hangs with another clique.

Another way to increase her discomfort would be to increase the stakes.  I’ve done this to a point in that one of my character’s best friends is a suspect and the other friend is sure she’s done it.  You could also have your character accused of something and the only way to get out of it is to accuse someone else.

A fourth way to complicate things is to add constraints.  Set the scene in a small space such as a space craft or a boat.  You can also limit the time which the character has to solve things.

It sounds like a lot so you may be wondering what you can accomplish in 5 minutes. Here are some suggestions:

  • List your Key Moments.
  • Examine each key moment for ways to add complications.  Add at least 2 complications per key moment. Three is even better.
  • Re-examine your complications for variety.  Personal stakes may be the issue at one point with constraints coming into play later on.

Clearly you aren’t going to get this done in one sitting.  And that’s okay.  Once you’ve come up with both key moments and complications, think about them again.  Make changes to increase tension or stakes.  I altered who the first suspect is because I wanted to expand my cast of characters to make the mystery harder to solve.

The hope is that by improving things before you staring writing, before you even start outlining, the writing and rewriting will be a little bit smoother.  Fingers crossed!


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