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JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

How To Develop Your Plot – writing advice and tips

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I’ll be writing about the video How to develop the plot – writing advice on developing the plot of your book or film, from the Writing Advice series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.

We were asked a question by viewer Gareth Shelley. He wanted to know how you develop the plot of your story, and whether you should start by writing the ending of your book, then building up towards it.

Personally, I like to know an end point idea, but I’ve never written the end of the book first, and Jonathan has been the same. When Jonathan wrote Emily The Master Enchantress, he knew he wanted to have an end of the story power up for his main character, Emily Hayes-Brennan. In the third act, he wanted her to be suddenly much more powerful, much like when Neo is given the power up in the third act of The Matrix. Knowing he was building to that gave him direction, but he didn’t know all the details in the rest of the book so he couldn’t write it first, only aim for it as a concept he would use.

Everybody has a different writing process, so if personally you’d prefer to write the end first rather than building to an idea, that’s fine and there is no wrong way of doing it. But personally, I wouldn’t want to because even when I have an idea of where I want to head, sometimes during the writing process that can change.

For instance, when I first started writing Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, my first novel, it was going to be a children’s book, aimed at ages 7-9. But as I wrote it I realised the theme was actually too mature. Lilly is a girl who’s drawings come to life, and as I was writing it I felt that I couldn’t fully deal with the consequences and responsibilities that come with the creation of life when writing for that age bracket. I wanted to explore what it means to create life in a deeper way, the way that the life you created is then dependent on you, and you are responsible for it’s existence. It felt it was more suited as a concept to an adolescent audience.

Because I started writing it as a children’s book, but had to change, I ended up writing a completely different book. But had I written the ending first, before I’d full explored the impact of what bringing life into the world would have on Lilly, then I might have felt trapped by it. With the ending there waiting, I’d have felt compelled to steer that book in a direction I didn’t naturally want to go in. Without the ending there I felt free to just change and rewrite in the style that I wanted to.

Logically I know you’re not trapped. If you write the end first and find the book is going in a different direction, you are perfectly free to rewrite it or edit it to suit your new story. That said, it’s not necessarily the best use of your time to keep rewriting an ending that isn’t working for you, rather than writing it fresh when you get to the end. But if you hold a picture in your head of how the ending will look, it can be reshaped and restructured as you write your story, so when you get to the end you’re writing based on your original idea but accommodating for any changes you’ve made along the way.

So my advice for this boils down to these three points:

  1. Have an idea of your end point
  2. Know basically how you want to get there
  3. Be fluid about it depending on how your story develops

So, if you’re not starting at the end, how do you get your plot to move?

First you start by looking at your main character, your Protagonist. Focus in on what they want and work out how they’re going to go about getting it. The story will move naturally as you follow that character in pursuit of what they want, and as the Antagonist tries to stop them getting what they want. Your characters and plot will both develop and grow as you follow both the Protagonist and the Antagonist as they are set against one another. Every time your Protagonist makes a move, your Antagonist will make a counter move, and that pushes the plot forwards.

An important thing to remember when using your Antagonist to help move the plot forwards is that they can’t just move without motivation. Make sure your Antagonist has a developed and intelligent plan. Moving purely for the sake of countering the Protagonist in ways that are just lucky or convenient is not good story telling. When the Antagonist is as well developed and motivated as the Protagonist, your plot will move and be interesting and exciting for your audience.

This is a beginning look at plot development, I’ll be covering different aspects in much more detail but as an overview this is a good guide to making sure you’re in a position to get control over your plot development.

You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll be releasing a piece of writing advice every day to help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get!

Click the picture to find details about all the books written by JJ Barnes and where to buy them.

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