Friday, March 27, 2015

Backward Plotting

One thing I've struggled to achieve when writing novels and screenplays is what Alexandra Sokoloff calls "plants and payoffs." These are defined as subtly "planting" a plot device early on in the story before using it later to serve some larger goal. J. K. Rowling and Steven Spielberg are both excellent at plants and payoffs.

But how does one contrive such things?

Since my uncle studied Dramatic Writing at NYU, I asked him. He suggested that I try plotting stories from the ending to the opening--in other words, plotting backward. It sounded like a great idea, and it was. I now have a full novel in the works thanks to my uncle's little hack. One thing I'll add is that I actually began with the climax, worked to the closing scene, reread my intended climax to refresh my memory, and worked all the way to the beginning. As of a few weeks back, I'm further than I've ever gotten in crafting a long-form story. I started to write it, but I still need to work on my characters and settings. (Perhaps I'll spill some character-development tricks in future posts, but that's a weak point for me at the moment.)

Historically, I have also struggled with length. I've written (finished) three would-be novels, none of which reached even ten thousand words. Perhaps I tend to rush, but I clearly have an issue with expansion. Character development, more scenes not filled with action, and more complicated plots and subplots will surely help, but the figurative pachyderm might be led out of the chamber if I plot backward and allow myself to "inject" more material between scenes or chapters.

This brought to light another idea: what if I were not only to plot backward, but to actually write the latter scenes early on and piece them together when I finish? This is indeed intriguing, but I have yet to try it out. If it does work, I doubt the pieces will fit together seamlessly at first, but I can always edit.

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