In my last blog post, I talked about introducing new conflicts by taking away your characters’ resources. This week, I want to discuss a similar method for getting your plot going again when you’re stuck.
Strategy #2: The Spider Web
Like the previous method, this also relies on coming up with new conflicts and backing your characters into a corner. It’s a more visual method, which might work better if you’re like me and have an easier time understanding things if you can see them. Hopefully, it will help you see all of the potential directions you can take the story and make connections between different ideas or events.
You remember those spider-web diagrams you probably had to do at some point in elementary school? It’s the same basic idea. I’ll give you an example, using the example of the very terrible first novel I ever wrote. It was a fantasy novel about your typical orphan-turned-hero(ine) who goes on a grand adventure and saves the world, filled with enough cliches and plot holes to make even the most undiscerning reader cringe. But it will work as an example.
Here’s the spider-web diagram I constructed for it this evening:
It’s kind of a mess and very basic, and obviously a little harder to understand if you don’t know the story. But I think you can kind of see where I’m going. A lot of times when you get a story idea, you only have a few ideas and maybe don’t know how they are connected or what comes next. That’s where the spider-web diagram can be helpful. You can just plug your ideas into the first outer section (the orange boxes in the above diagram) and then try to think of all the different things that might happen as a result. You just keep building outward. You don’t have to use everything you add to the diagram, but this is a good way to brainstorm. If you’re just struggling with one plot point, you can also use this strategy on a smaller scale. Just put that one plot point in the center and then try to think of what would happen as a result, or how it would impact the characters involved. Build out from there as before.
After that, you can sometimes make connections between ideas. For example, the main character in my story was a half-elf, half-human orphan who never felt like she belonged in her human hometown. She wants to leave, and when a group of dragon-slayers arrive in pursuit of the monster that destroys the town, she decides join them. This raises a few problems, not just because she’s only fifteen years old (which was shamefully never really addressed as a problem in the story when I wrote it), but also because of her race and the long-standing conflict that has existed between humans and the elf/dwarf alliance in the world I created. The question – and conflict – then becomes: Why do the dragon-slayers eventually allow her to join their group? Not everyone will agree, so the decision is bound to cause some tension in the group. How? I could have easily built the web outward from there, but I think you get the point.
I know it’s a really simple strategy and maybe something you’ve already tried before. Still, I’ve found it helpful on several occasions and it’s one of my go-to strategies for figuring my plot out when I get stuck. Having a visual like this helps me see how all of the different ideas and events are connected so that I can make sure all of that is reflected in the writing. It can also help organize a bunch of scattered ideas into something that makes sense. It might be simple, but sometimes that’s all you need.