I have, in my kikki-k folder, a bunch of plotting aids. Idea worksheets, Take Off Your Pants, Save the Cat… I would link to these if I had any earthly idea where it was I found them. Possibly somewhere on the NaNoWriMo forums.
I have never used these. I am more of a “pantser” than a “plotter” (write by the seat of your pants, you see?) so I just let the characters do what they do. The trouble is, I have a conceit and I have a vague setting, and I have one character, but I have no plot at all. Last time I tried to write Sin Eater, I threw in a detective and a revolutionary cadre, and it turned into an entirely different novel. I had no reason for the characters to be sin-eaters. I could have dropped totally different characters into it and the book would have been better for it.
So I clearly need to plan. My protagonist is interested in self-preservation; my feeling regarding what Tamora Pierce called “lesser immortals” – who are ageless but can be killed – is that they want to protect their immortality above all else. Goal-wise, well, they have forever; anything they want, they can put off indefinitely, at least in theory. That leaves one with a character who doesn’t really care what she does so long as it’s not oppressively boring or unreasonably dangerous.
Well, great. A character who just meanders through life without attempting anything that could lead to actual tension. Fan-fucking-tastic. I can’t really work with that, so… I’ll have to create the tension and shove her in the middle of it. But what could it be? What is my plot?
The marvellous Ksenia Anske has been going through some similar troubles of late. Not fun for her, but it benefits me, because she has somehow worked out the trick of it and now I can latch onto her brain like a Yeerk and suck out all her knowledge.
Now I have the 36 Dramatic Situations, which I didn’t even know was a thing, all printed out and tucked inside my planner. All I have to do, in theory, is pick one. But happily, I think I already have an idea. The trick, really, is working out how to get to it. How to make Grim discover the Thing. After that, she can react to it, then deal with it, and all that nonsense – but getting to the Thing, that is difficult. That requires some thought, and potentially more characters. Even getting to the Thing isn’t the whole of the issue… I don’t want the plot to go off the rails – again – in the name of wordcount.
It’s frustrating, because instead of writing, one has to sit down and actively have ideas. That’s tricky! But of course the ideas often won’t come if you’re not seeking them out. You have to sit down, and tease out some ideas. Write it down: who is she, where is she, what does she want, what does her existence entail? And as you do that, sometimes other ideas present themselves. OK, what if… she’s not the only one? What if… she’s fighting over resources? What if… she’s suddenly in a position where she’s not so safe, at all? What does she do? And who helps her do it?