So I am now prepping for a novel project. What is it about? I can place it in a genre. Sort of. I guess it would be some kind of sci-fi/fantasy/adventure amalgamation. Yeah, I know. Sort of a departure but the idea seemed really interesting and I’d like to follow it. So that’s the genre. But what’s the plot? What will happen? What could happen? That’s the thing this post is going to be about. When you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded novel, there’s no telling what could happen. It’s all just potential energy sitting there, waiting to be exploded. However, in the earliest stages, it’s more like you’re looking at a lump of C4. When it goes off, the explosion is formless and directionless. However, if you put that explosion in the barrel of a gun it could propel a bullet or if you make a shaped charge, you can blast open a door. In other words, structure is important and creating the shape of the still gestating novel can help you when it comes time to actually put it all together. But how does one create this shape without stifling the creative process? One thing that might help is making a list and using that to both get a sense the possibility waiting in your story and how things will begin to fit together.
How does making a list help? One thing I found going into this novel is that I had a situation and not much else. I had a man on a blimp. Cool. But what does he do on this blimp? He’s on a blimp. Oh. Not very exciting. I didn’t have to plot anything because there was nothing there, no story. Now I could get into a whole discussion of what plot is and isn’t but I guess the easiest way to understand it is that it is the stuff of the story which is character action in all its forms, i.e. dialogue, action, thought. So what I did was simply make a list of all the things that seemed connected to blimps in my mind and some stuff I picked up from research on blimps and zeppelins. Then I started asking questions and thinking of possibilities for what the back-story of the blimp could be. Then I branched out into the back-story of the world could be and the types of people that could exist in such a world and what they might want. The result was a collection of possible plot points and a bunch of random thoughts. I’m still adding to it but I’m slowing down, feeling pretty pleased with what I have there. In other words, the list is very much like free writing though it avoids one of the problems I found with free writing. The list allows you to think up situations, characters, places, everything you’d need but without putting it into prose or putting it into the structure of an outline. Free writing right into the story can lead to the problem of getting into the story then discovering that the story doesn’t add up! What the list method does is let you create the pieces you’ll put into your puzzle. Once you have enough puzzle pieces to create what you think is a complete picture, then you can begin to arrange them into an outline. Or you can just keep them in your head and arrange them there. It really depends on how you work best. Some swear by outlining while others like to fly by the seat of their pants. But with a list of possible plot points and other items to populate your story with, it should be easy to both get your feet on some solid ground and have a point of departure so you can discover the rest of your story.