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To Start a Plot, Start Walking

posted May 8, 2018, 12:34 PM by Ben Kreucher
The plot of a book is a lot like taking a walk. As you start out, you might know where you're going and how to get there, but you don't know what you'll see along the way. A good plot gives you clues to your destination, some even point you toward it. It seems to take forever to arrive where you're going. But the way back home takes almost no time at all. Even though it's the same distance. For some reason, I like to walk home rather than walk toward some destination.

Even walking around the block seems to take longer until I reach the halfway point. Then, it's easier, I walk faster, and soon I'm home. It hardly feels like the same distance. 

Plots are the same. For me, I know where I want my characters to go, I start them in the right direction and they know how to get there. But once they reach it, the story is mostly over and going home, the wrap-up, flies by. Loose ends are tied up, some questions might be left unanswered, but nothing glaring or major. And the journey home, though it might be the same distance, feels shorter.

Along the way, as I walk, I notice things. A permanent marker discarded along the side of the road. A frog carcass baking in the heat. Where the sidewalk ends on one side of the street and if it begins on the other...even if there's no crosswalk or discernible reason why. Standing water. Stagnant drains. Construction. Houses for sale. How heavy the traffic is. 

As my characters journey, I notice things too. Where they stop for meals or rest. What signs, omens, or portents distract them. What adventures and quests meet them along the way. And I learn more about my characters, what they like, how they react to different stimuli, why they make a certain choice, etc.

Writing, like life, is a journey. The destination may be to reach "The End", but don't lose sight of the things around you while walking toward that distant goal. Take time to explore, especially in the first draft or two. You never know what you might find. You can always cut later. That's why writers edit.
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