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The organic method of following your nose into a story can lead an author down blind alleys and, worse, pages that end up being thrown away. While you can always say, “They will make my next book that much shorter,” the chances are that they will never fit in your next book, either. You are better off exploring plot options early in the process.

Let’s say you come up with a concept. You want to write about making movies before the rise of Hollywood. Maybe you know Ithaca, New York, was a site used back in those primitive days. You research a likely film company and the silent films it produced. You decide the protagonist is the person in charge of the props—the furniture and accouterments needed for each scene. A love affair will develop with a leading man, one that mirrors the story in the film.

Before embarking into step-by-step scenes that proceed from winks and nods to bumps to caresses, you might want to lay out a host of scenarios first. One determinant that is useful is research. If you are exploring possible lead characters, what does the historical record say? By finding out more about what really happened on one movie set, you may see more possibilities for the story line you’ve chosen.

As you’re realizing what sort of frame will fit your story, you can start making decisions about your overall endeavor. A romance is fine as a plot line, but you usually will need diversions from it at the very least. Pounding the flesh has only so many variations. Do you want to build in a mystery subplot? How should your characters be arranged for that construct? Will the narrative be more internal, as in a literary book? Do you think you could superimpose another generation of moviemaking, and run the two plot lines in parallel? 

Then write the stuff down. As ideas come to you, let your fingers bring your balloons down to earth. That way you can not only judge a notion dispassionately. You can also come back in ensuing days to determine how the initial impulse is holding up in terms of your desire to pursue it. Keep writing notes for each idea as they strike you. The growing preponderance of one area probably means it’s the right one.

You’re not foreclosing options that may come up later in the first draft. The embrace of early notes does not reach far at all. But what you will accomplish is setting aside obvious wrong choices that you stumble through for 50 pages before wanting to slit your throat for all the time you’ve wasted.

Exercise: Your intentions can filter everything you learn about a subject. If an early movie star was dashing, ask yourself: how would that quality fit into my notes? When research is grist for the mill, you will find facts can spur wavelets of creativity. They push you closer to a conception that satisfies you.

“Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once.”  —Johann Kaspar Lavater

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.