5 Oblique Plotting Strategies

I am still struggling with the creation of feasible plots. By feasible I mean plots that make me want to stay with the story over the long haul – weeks, months or years and finish rather than bury the story. Only in a few cases, the idea itself was strong enough to follow the story for months or even years – e.g. for the 24 Christmas stories that form a chapter of TYFYS (one for each time zone), and for GISELA, my latest publication – but most of the time I run out of steam after, on average, 7,000-10,000 words. Running out of steam usually means that I have another unfinished book that trickles through my hands like sand while in the background the clock of writerly ambition is cruelly ticking away…

Per esempio: in the last five years, I have buried (at least) 50 such literary corpses in the basement. Now, this is probably rather normal for people who write a lot, and the basement of my mind is not running out of space. But there’s a psychological toll: after serially murdering so many stories, one begins to doubt one’s sanity…time to shake things up a bit!

Yesterday, C reminded me of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategy” method. Very simply, you devise a strategy in the form of a instruction on one side of an index card — with the other side of the card you can do what you like. I like to draw an image to imprint the instruction more deeply. I used her advice and designed a few such strategies myself including some extras – a short text and a photo (I love photos) after a little research (I love research, too).

You’ll notice that the instructions aren’t all that straightforward. This is because I was hoping (rightly) that already reading the instructions would have a paradoxical effect on me and strike a spark off the fiction flint stone straight into the firewood pile. The plots that I generated using these were surprisingly fresh and interesting and I’m looking forward to putting them through the paces.

1. What would Napoleon do?

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.18.28

2. Explain your plot idea to an alien lifeform.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.18.39

3. What is at the heart of all your stories?

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 15.15.41

4. Describe a photo that inspires you.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.18.50

5. Cannibalize dime stories.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.56.07

Bonus Strategy: Take the Rilke Route. 

Rilke wrote: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.” Don’t resolve questions (Why would he do that? Who killed her? What else is going on? When will it happen?) by force. Let them simmer (if you’re after fire), gain depth (if you’re into floods) or allow them to disappear altogether (if you’re the airy type). Of course, this advice comes from a poet who perhaps cannot be trusted when plot is at peril.

Rilke letting go in Switzerland.

PS. on a more practical note: these screenshots were taken off drawings that I create in OneNote (a free notepad app) using a Wacom Intuos Art pen tablet. Pulling together text, drawings and other media inspires me. To work out the plots, I now use Scrivener (all-purpose story editor, to work on the text itself) and Twine (an open-source non-linear story editor, to experiment with the order of plot elements). All highly recommended. If you’re a gadget fiend like me, the digital world’s your obedient oyster.

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