author, creative writing, writing

Turning an Idea into a Plot

Good morning writers, I hope you’ve had a great week.

I took a little time out this week, and took myself to Edinburgh for a few days. It’s an amazing city, and my aim was to spend some time alone, plotting novel 2 ahead of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Whether you’re planning to take part in NaNo or not, you may sometimes find yourself struggling to turn an idea into a full plot. I know do. So I’m going to share with you my method for turning a fledgling idea into a full story outline. (Please note, this is not a guaranteed guide, it works for me but may not work for everybody.)

Take a look at the following eight steps, to turn your novel idea into a plot:

1. Spend some quiet time thinking
The first thing I do when I have the stirrings of a new idea is spend some quiet time thinking. I think through that initial idea and try to work out where it might lead. It’s best to do this somewhere quiet. My preferences are having a bath or going for a walk. You can keep a notebook handy, but just spend a bit of time mulling things over first. It’ll help the idea to blossom.

2. Write down everything
After you’ve had your thinking time, write everything down. Every single idea for the plot, the characters, the twists etc…don’t worry if the ideas seem daft, out of place, or unlikely to ever be used. It’s still good practice to get down those early thoughts and ideas, because they will either become stronger later, or be disregarded. Either way they will help you delve into the idea and flesh it out. Working out what doesn’t work is just as important as working out what does, so jot down everything. (And keep that notebook with you at all times!)

3. Consider the theme/concept
When the idea first forms it can be really helpful to consider the theme/concept/genre that will suit the story. Because knowing this can help the idea take shape. Different genres will put in place different boundaries, themes and expectations. So considering the genre early on gives you a solid starting point for giving your novel idea structure.

4. Develop your characters
Characters make a story, and a lot of the time it’s the characters that drive the plot. If you’re struggling to turn your idea into a full story line spend some time getting to know your characters. Write out character profiles, consider their goals, wants and motives. Once you know more about them, plot points will come naturally and the characters often take the lead in deciding what happens. The more you know them, the more the plot unravels.

5. Choose a setting
Setting can play a big part in a story. Consider where your story should be set, and this’ll help you learn more about the story itself. Different settings open up different opportunities and impose different limits, and establishing these early on is another way to shape your plot.

6. Consider the inciting incident
The inciting incident will be the very first exciting plot point in your story. It should happen within the early chapters, and is usually the first real driving force to make your characters react and respond to the major issue/conflict that your story is going to address. With that in mind it’s easy to see how the inciting incident can play a huge part in the plot going forward.

7. Ask yourself questions
When I’m in the early stages of plotting I ask myself a lot of “what if” questions. I write them down in my notebook, and jot several different answers to keep my options open. Questions can include “what if this character can’t get what they want”, or “what if the this character were to go missing”. It’s not to say that these have to actually happen, but it helps you understand more about the way your characters think, and opens up more plot points and twists.

8. Just write!
There’s only so much planning you can do, and sometimes you can spend so much time plotting you never get round to actually writing it. Once you have a basic idea of the plot, just write. The story will develop, change and strengthen as you get into it, and the only real way to set it in stone is to get it down. The first draft is always rough around the edges, so don’t focus on trying to get it perfect, just focus on getting the story told. You can edit it later to smooth it out, tighten it up and iron out any plot holes.

Do you find it easy turning ideas into plots? Or do you have to spend a fair amount of time on it? Perhaps you don’t plot at all, and prefer to start writing and see what happens?

I’d love to know, so do comment below.

Until then,
Keep plotting,

NaNoWriMo is coming, follow my journey on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – and share yours, I’d love to follow back!


30 thoughts on “Turning an Idea into a Plot”

  1. Great tips, M! I especially love number 8. I’m not a planner so just sitting and writing is usually how I get my stories out. Happy to hear you enjoyed your break and got some work done on book 2.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I prefer to just start writing.

    I think my biggest struggle is finding something to write about; something that makes me go “I want to read a story like that.”

    “Write the kind of story you wish existed” is one of my favorite pieces of writing advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What works for me is one of the things you mentioned: Write Everything Down.

    I have this jumbled mess of a notebook that I keep whenever an idea crosses my mind. When I say mess I mean exactly that. Most of the stuff I write I’ll never use, but there is always that one little line that puts everything into motion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Personally, I’ve tried the “planning everything out beforehand” and “just jump into it” approaches and have found the former to work better for me. I often find myself contradicting what I planned in the start because I feel like I can make it work better in some other way. But just having a reference and to know where the plot is heading (for longer formats in particular) is a great blessing for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I find if I chose close my eyes and think… The ideas pour in….
    I play scenes in my head… Rewriting them in my head long before I write them down… πŸ˜€
    Though this happens only and if I already have a set idea in my mind… And I just play with it…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I spend a lot of time daydreaming, getting to know my characters and asking difficult questions. I’ve alrea developed a theme, pinned down my genre and created lots of conflict. The next step is to start writing but evaluate as I go.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ohh that sounds really cool! πŸ˜€ Yes, we can keep each other on track (hopefully – I have little faith that I will reach the full 50,000 but I’m ever the optimist so I’m gonna give it a shot!) ❀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I love have everything planned out. What’s going to happen in each and every chapter, who’s in it, and so on. Then my characters go off and do something unexpected. I might still get from A to Z but there’s some rather interesting side streets taken to get there.

    Liked by 1 person

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