Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing Your Own Adventure—Plotting Solutions When You’re Stuck

Layout 1When I was a kid, I loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.

Do you remember those books? Basically, each book would tell a riveting story—you’re in a time machine, you’re back in the days of dinosaurs, you’re blasting off into space—and at the bottom of (most) pages, you got to choose how you were going to handle the situation you were in. “If you run from the T-Rex, turn to page 88. If you hide from the T-Rex, turn to page 40.”

Maybe it’s my experience with those books that makes me so open when I’m revising with my editor. For the last of the Memphis books, my editor asked me if I could tie a particular character back into the end of the book.

I emailed her back. “Sure,” I said. “Here are three alternate endings. Which one do you like best?” Yes, it was “Choose Your Own Adventure” for adults. :)

Being open to different plot paths for your story can be great when editing. But it’s also good for moving your story forward when you get stuck.

In my experience, it’s good to think big when you’re not really sure where your next scene is going. Instead of thinking up one alternate path for your storyline, try thinking up five storylines.

Or try thinking up 10 possible plot directions. Try thinking up 15. They can be random and ridiculous and don’t have to be the ones that you’re going to end up choosing. But it’s a great way to get your imagination going, brainstorming solutions to move the story forward.

Kill a character. Introduce a new character. The character quits his job. The character’s mother moves in with him and murders his roommate. There is a hurricane. The character’s spouse becomes seriously ill and can no longer work. The character falls in and out of love. The character has a DUI. You get the idea. You’re just trying to get your creative juices flowing. The funny thing is that in with the wacky ideas, there are usually at least one or two things that could work. There are usually more that could work with some plot tweaking.

Sometimes it’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to our plots. Even if we know the direction we’re heading in isn’t working, it can be difficult to see other directions to take. Brainstorming a list is just one way to approach the problem.

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” book in the picture above has 42 possible endings. How many can you come up with for your book? What other exercises do you use when you get stuck?


Interested in a monthly newsletter with the top writing articles, blogger spotlights, and interviews with industry insiders? Sign up for the free WKB newsletter here: (You can unsubscribe at any time, and your email information is never shared.)