In fiction writing circles there are two kinds of writers: pantsers and plotters.
Pantsers are those who fly by the seat of their pants. They are discovery writers. They sit down at the keyboard and, somehow, magically, their characters reveal themselves and show the author where the story should go.
Plotters, on the other hand, plot.
For myself, and most people, pantsing doesn’t work. I end up with a meandering story line driven by purposeless characters.
If that’s true in fiction, why not life? I’ve been pondering where I want to be at the end of 2015, 2016, and beyond. I’m hoping for certain outcomes, certain happy endings.
It suddenly struck me (Aha, Oprah moment): Greta, why don’t you apply the writing rules you’ve been learning to life? So, here goes.
How to plot your happy endings
1. Start with a hook
Most professional writers agree you need to begin your story with a strong hook that gets the reader engaged right away. Something that makes them want to keep reading.
If you’re going to plot your life, it needs a hook too. Something that grabs your attention and gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s great if that something is your career.
Sounds wonderful. But that may not be your current experience.
You may be stuck, temporarily, in a job you don’t enjoy. If you don’t have the luxury of jumping ship, you have to find another hook.
It could be making steps towards a career change, like taking classes, researching a new industry, or starting a side business.
It could be a hobby, an upcoming vacation, a volunteer opportunity, a home improvement project. The important thing is to find something that grabs you, fills your mind, and sails you out of the doldrums.
I have learned not to feel like it’s a waste of time if the hook doesn’t seem to be heading toward a practical financial goal. Excitement and creativity are the fuel you need to get you moving. The hook is an essential part of plotting your life.
2. Analyze the protagonist’s problem. (You are the protagonist.)
The next big plotting step is the set up of your main character’s problem or dilemma. A story isn’t interesting if the reader doesn’t understand who the hero is and what he or she wants that they don’t currently have.
The following may seem ridiculous, but many are so busy doing they don’t actually stop and think about where all the activity is taking them.
To plot your life, you must know who you are, what motivates you, and what you want that you don’t already have.
Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, suggests asking a number of questions about your protagonist before you begin writing.
Write down the answers to these questions:
- What is your central problem?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Have you been avoiding confronting this situation?
- Have you been making feeble attempts but nothing significant?
- How would confronting this problem push your story ahead in a meaningful way?
Then fill in a little back story about yourself:
- What events in your past have led to your current predicament?
- What events in your past could lead to a solution to this problem?
- What are your three greatest strengths?
- What are your three greatest weakness?
3. Decide on your plot points
Finally, you come to the action phase of plotting your life. The is place where the story—or in our case the life rewrite—begins. The spot where you leap off into an adventure that will change your future and alter your character.
Envision the scene:
- What is the first step you need to take?
- Where will you be when you take it?
- When will it happen?
- Who else will be involved?
- What do you need with you?
- What emotions will accompany the action?
- Will there be dialogue?
- What will be said?
Build from here, scene upon scene. Plot the steps that will take you to the exciting climax, your goal, the happy ending.
The bonus round:
- Outline your story so it drives hard to the hoop.
- Always keep your desired destination, the fulfillment of your hopes and dreams, in the forefront of your mind.
- Try to avoid fluff and filler, those things that take up space on the page but don’t push the plot ahead.
- Don’t spend large amounts of time dwelling on the past—your back story. It’s boring.
- Keep the romance and emotion high.
- Let creativity have its way with you.
- Don’t throw your manuscript in the drawer if you run into a difficulty. In every good novel there are setbacks, antagonists, tension, conflict, and crisis. Those things are there to make life a little more interesting.
You’re the one with the keyboard.
Go write a best seller.
I’d love to here from you! What are you plotting in 2015?
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/brettkiger/ (photo was cropped and text added)