“So I have two pages but have no idea what happens next,” you announce to your writing group in agony.
“How can you not know?” the shy girl asks, “It’s your story?”
You shrug in reply and eye rolls abound. But you know they have the same problem you do.
So what do we do about it? Nothing. The pages get put in a drawer until inspiration strikes, however long that may take.
No More. Its time to finish those dusty pages and produce a book. Let me introduce you to a time map. This is a chronological brainstorming exercise. I use this exercise regularly and I hope you find it helpful. Here is how it works:
- Find a story or group of scenes that have you stuck in the white mire of empty pages.
- It’s best if you use one main character to follow out. If you have two or more do each character individually.
- Make a list of the actions which have ALREADY happened in your story.
- If you have a vague idea of where you want the story to go add it to the side of the page (this is your plot goal).
- Now that you have your main elements boiled down branch out from each of those items with the next LOGICAL outcomes.
- This should give you a huge selection of scene options. Pick the ones that peak your interest and your characters seem to gravitate toward. As you go your imagination should start whipping into gear.
- Keep branching out and circling back to your overall goal that you picked earlier. Or if you don’t have an overarching goal yet use the scenes you just selected to create one.
- This should give you a framework to fill in for your book.
- Get to writing!
I know what you are saying. Where’s the suspense? What about the twist? The reader can guess it all! I disagree. Logical does not mean obvious.
Here is an example I did recently for a story I have had in my drawer since high school. The bold items are the scenes I started with. Normal text are the things I was able to logically conclude from where I started. Notice that some of them, while logical, are not obvious.
Lily thinks she is the only one of her kind left in the world. She is not welcome in human towns.
- Lily wanders the forests an exile
- Lily has a confrontation with humans (repeatedly)
- Lily keeps looking for a place she can settle
- Lily befriends a Unicorn
- i.the unicorn protects her
- the unicorn belongs to someone else
- Lily makes a home in the woods alone
- Her home is found by a cute woodsman
- Her home is found by a band of thieves
- Lily finds others like herself
- Lily is accepted by the tribe
-Lily falls in love but does he love her back?
- Lily is not accepted by the tribe
-Lily refuses to leave and attempts to assimilate with the tribe
- Lily is accepted by the tribe
Story Goal- Lily finds her place in the world.
Always ask yourself: What is the next logical option after this scene?
I can cherry pick what I want at this point and create a story. You can also use this same outline to work backwards to create your back story or flashback scenes.
With multiple characters you can intertwine them from here. And, as always, stories are in flux. But you are no longer stuck and you may even have the beginning framework of your next work!
Did you find this exercise helpful? Were you able to branch out your scene into enough to fill a book or at least into a short story.