My favorite thing about plotting probably makes me a horrible person

Edits on EMPIRE OF LIGHT are finally finished and its out to agents, so what does any halfway sane writer do to avoid obsessively checking their inbox? Writing the next book, of course. Even though I have a few projects on my back burner, it's definitely time for something new. Sadly, due to lots of professional and personal happenings it's been years since I've even thought about outlining something completely new, and to be honest, it's as daunting as it is exciting. It's coming up with something completely new, creating new world building, and taking on massive amounts of research. It's creating new characters who are complex and intriguing, with faults, goals, and motivations out of nothing.

It seems like an insurmountable task.

At least until I actually start plotting. Then it often takes just one epiphany (which seem to happen with exponential frequency when brushing my teeth) to get things going. I love those moments. Like this morning, when a random thought turned into a massive plot epiphany that changed everything I had thought about this book. It was glorious.

Anyway, let's focus for a minute and talk about some of the things that need to be in place to get there.

  • I need to be done with whatever project I've been working on. Like, out to agents/betas/someone ELSE kind of done. Closed the Scrivener file kind of done (really, this never happens unless the project is out of my hands). Even though I am a multitasker at heart, I really need that bit of mental closure that comes with "this book is now out of my hands" that lets me focus on something new. It opens up brain space to really think about a new project, its characters, setting, and what the hell is going to happen to make this awesome.
  • I need to figure out who my characters are. Yes, this current project totally started out as a scene stuck in my head, but really things don't even register as projects in my head without characters. Also, I usually need at least two to really get the plotting gears going, because, let's face it, I know I'm a huge hypocrite because I like to roll my eyes at novels where the romance takes over everything, but for me figuring out a book is all about figuring out character relationships. Yes, that includes UST and sexytimes, but it also includes friendships, enmities, and the reasons why the LI would shoot the MC. This is also where goals, motivation, and conflict, both external and internal come into play. This is usually the first thing I like to figure out for each character.
  • And now, to my very, very favorite thing about plotting. This is also why I am a horrible person. It's the question: What's the worst thing that could happen? Yes, it's the question that usually prompts the universe to show you exactly how bad things can get, just because you provoked it. In plotting, it's where the awesome part starts. Well, maybe less awesome for our characters, but tough shit. This is where the fun part starts. This is where tension and conflict come in and people keep turning pages. I've first come across this approach in a day-long workshop with Donald Maass, whose work book Writing the Breakout Novel I highly recommend. He challenges participants of his workshops to figure out what the worst thing that can possibly happen to his characters is at the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Once you've figured that out for these three parts of your book, he challenges you to make that even worse. Up the ante even more. Again, you figure that out for the beginning, middle, and end of the book. And then you make it happen. That's what your turning points are. That's where shit's getting real. And that's where the magic, or in my case the plot epiphanies happen.

And that's it. Here you have the ground work for plot. It cane be scary to take some of these shots, but if you can make it happen, take the shot. Your plot will thank you. Your characters may hate you. Sorry, characters.

So, yeah, I'm a pretty horrible person, but man, I love those moments when I can figure out just what will push my characters over the edge. It will drive stakes, goals, motivation, and conflict to new levels. That's how plot happens and it probably shouldn't be this much fun, but again, I'm a horrible person. This is my favorite part.

And on that note, go mess with your characters. Happy writing.