In April and May, we ran a two-part plotting and planning exercise at the meetings. Some people asked if I would post the exercises somewhere, so here they are.
Participants were asked to use either a planned work, a work in progress, a completed work, or a story they knew well to complete this exercise. They answered the following questions about their chosen work:
Who: Who is your main character? Describe his or her personality (physical appearance does not matter unless it is integral to the plot) and a very short description of their life situation.
What: What does your main character want more than anything? This question helps discover your character’s motivation, and therefore what should drive the story forward.
Obstacles: What prevents your character getting what he or she wants? This is the central conflict in the story, and may or may not involve other characters.
Villains/antagonists: Who is getting in your character’s way and why? This may or may not relate to the previous question.
The fuse: What event triggers the start of your story? It’s unlikely (and unwise) that you begin your story on a random day in your character’s life when nothing special happens. This question helps you find the best point at which to begin.
The path: What will your character encounter on his or her journey? This is distinct from the obstacles; here you need to list a series of events that will occur in the story to bring your character from the beginning to the end.
The climax: How does it all come to a head? This does not necessarily come at the very end of the book, though it often will. But it’s the peak of the story, and usually the most exciting point.
Growth: What changes occur in your character before and after the climax? Here you can explore your character’s growth as a person, or how the events in your story change him or her.
Themes: What is at the heart of your story? What’s it all really about? Answering these questions will help give your story consistency and keep it on track. For a sample list of book themes, see here for examples. There are many more lists online, just Google!
Secondary character arcs and plotlines – once again using either a planned work, a work in progress, or a completed work, participants were asked to describe the following:
Name one of your secondary characters and who he/she is in relation to the protagonist.
Describe his/her arc, i.e. what the character’s purpose is in the story, and how this role is resolved.
Describe one of your subplots, which characters it affects, and how it is resolved. What effect does it have on the main plot line?
The aim of this exercise is to focus on what is happening outside the direct scope of the protagonist’s story; all your subplots and secondary characters should have a complete arc, even if what happens to them in the end doesn’t make it into your final manuscript.