Thursday, September 6, 2012

"What is the coolest way this plot thing might happen?"

I've always considered myself a word person, a craft person. I don't read many commercial books, I don't tend to enjoy them. I don't chase trends. I love character-driven stories.

But lately I've been thinking about how to push my storytelling farther. Bestselling author Laini Taylor managed to articulate my goal on her blog, and I've been asking myself ever since:

"What's the coolest way this plot thing might happen?"

To steal a page from her book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, could I set the book in Prague? At an art school? Could there be a shop that sells teeth? A character who designs puppets?

Between you and me, I have a lot of scenes set in school bathrooms and characters' bedrooms. Okay, so Project Demo doesn't really have room for a shop that sells teeth. But then I think about Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life, a contemporary, realistic novel, which has a climactic scene in Casa Bonita, that crazy tourist restaurant in Colorado with waterfalls and cave divers. And you know what? That's a little more interesting than the school bathroom.

And to be 100% honest, sometimes those character-driven, quiet books that I claim to love? They don't have much plot. So then I think about my larger premise, too. How can I make that more exciting? What if instead of a regular school, my characters went to a spy school (Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls)? Or what if my characters weren't just magicians, but crime lords (Holly Black's Curse Workers series)?

Because the truth is, cool premises and intriguing settings aren't just marketing gimmicks. They work. And not only do they make me want to read a story, they make me more likely to lose myself in a story.

So even though this type of storytelling doesn't come naturally to me, and it might mean some research, or getting out of my own head occasionally, I know it's worth it. And even better, it feeds my creativity, encourages my mind to push boundaries. It's exciting.

And that's really the heart of good storytelling.

Have you always thought about writing this way, or is pushing your storytelling a bit of a revelation to you, too?


  1. When writing PBs, we think in pictures, and so varied (and visual) settings are key. Screen-writers do this. The only difference with literary books is that the setting is secondary. Not that it is absent.
    I enjoyed reading how you are incorporating the screen writer’s skills. If you have fun with it, the readers might also.

    1. Interesting, Mirka! I hadn't even thought of this in terms of screenwriting or picture books, but of course you're right. Thanks for the insight!

  2. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, too. My stories are "quiet" and character driven. For the last month or so I've been trying to find ways to make my story hookier - more commercial. Those cool premises and intriguing settings are easy to recognize in other people's books - but not so easy to come up with for our own stories. Honestly, it hurts my brain. But I do think the changes I've made so far make the story richer, so I will keep at it. (And yes, I'll concede, pushing the boundaries is a little exciting ;)

    1. I do think it makes a difference, even little tweaks in setting and plot, and it's probably a matter of habit--hopefully, even though it hurts my brain, too, we'll get better and better at it!


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