Inventing A Plot
When people discover I am an author, they ask, “What’s your book about?” I cheerfully answer their reasonable question, “It’s about a 500-year-old woman forcing an author to interview her.” Their next question is, “How did you come up with such a far-out idea?”
I have always been creative, and some of this creativity applies when I imagine stories. One of my earliest stories was about a talking cat. We went on adventures and even had drama, where I “talked” to my friend about my problems. As I grew, my stories became more advanced, with multiple characters that had complex interactions.
Around the high school age, my interests changed, and I devoted my imagination to technology. I wanted to learn everything about electronics and mechanics. I took a thorough analysis of pretend development and only had a minor amount of story creativity during one writing class and emailing jokes I created.
Around age 30, I began thinking about stories again. I think it was because I worked all day with technology and did not need to think about my day at work. However, there was a difference because I now formalized the process with a beginning, middle, and end. Yet, I felt no need to write them down because they were only a time-wasting effort intended to entertain me.
The concepts were minimalistic, and the main character (me) always made money. Often the character started or improved a business. This imagination period lasted for about five years, and then my stories mellowed out because my business development interest faded.
Around 2015 something dramatically changed when eBooks became popular. Before their invention, it took significant effort to read a physical book, and I had better things to do. Going to the library and only having two weeks to read a book? Yeah, right.
I began reading at least one eBook per week, but something was wrong. I did not always like the stories I read. So, my imagination filled the gaps. My first big story was about a man (me) meeting two women who wanted to start an overseas bank. Yes, this was the same old idea, but I added a twist—romance with structured and realistic characters.
I imagined many other stores after this, including the plots for my first three books. So what happened to this banking idea? After writing the first three books, I learned about plot structure and characters. When it came time to write that bank story, I realized the plot was awful (a great story for me, but not for readers).
After I had written three books, I needed more material but did not have ten years to think up a plot. Because I had three developed storylines, I concentrated on the following books in the series. My method was simple. Get my characters into trouble and get them out. Major life problems create drama, intrigue, and creative solutions, making problems the essence of most good books. The trick is to think of something challenging, personal, realistic, and exciting. Plus, I try not to make my problems offensive, stupid, childish, or out of character.
How does this process work? If I had an established character, I would ask, “What if Sally had Y happen?” Then I would think up a creative solution. After a few mental rounds, if that plot sounded interesting, I would build upon it. If I did not have an established character, the process would be the same, but I would have to create a character backstory first. A butcher with a dark secret? Sounds good. A teacher with a heart of gold? If something terrible happened to them, that would be worth reading about.
The next step is to write my ideas down in outline form, fill out the story and work out the bugs. Unfortunately, on two occasions, I had to start over because the outline revealed major problems.
You may have uncovered a large flaw if you have made it this far. Why would the character want to get out of trouble? This issue reared its ugly head in the outline of my fifth book. I knew why but did not communicate this logic to the reader. (It was at the outline stage, but the problem was still there.)
A big part of this missed motivation was the “critical decision.” This is when a character does something BIG without revealing the reasons or details. For example, “Bob killed Fred.” Why? What happened afterward? How did Bob feel about his actions? What did Bob tell people? Well… I assumed the reader had been paying attention and magically knew what was in Bob’s head. Oops.
When crafting a book, it is essential to think about story flow, which encompasses motivation. I had a bad habit of resolving issues too quickly. I guess rapid problem-solving is part of my engineering personality. Everything must be neat and organized. A story does not read right when an issue remains unresolved. Real authors leave issues unresolved over several chapters. This writing device is called “tension.”
Readers like prolonged conflicts and having their hands held through the resolution. This addition is the difference between a news report and a novel. One is presentable, and the other is enjoyable.
I now understand that not all stories have to have deep conflict. A good example is The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Repair by Robert Pirsig. A dad takes his son on a motorcycle road trip. There’s no controversy, adventure, or radical concepts. However, it is a fantastic book everybody should read. Why? Because this book has the best story flow ever. The author goes far over the top to expand the characters and thoroughly explain their motivations in a very mellow way. The plot builds over several chapters and slowly settles into a gentle conclusion.
What will my future plots hold? I have many ideas that I want to explore, including time traveling to meet Amelia Earhart. The good news is that my storytelling (in my mind) is improving. The bad news is that I still want to run through my plots on one page. I got to work on that.

You’re the best -Bill
June 12, 2018 Updated May 27, 2023

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