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Hello, writers. So I'm playing around with book ideas to see if any of them will do as a Next Project. I already know my process involves multiple drafts, with the characters and  plot only becoming clear somewhere around the third draft. Now I'm trying to buck my process, and write synopses and sample chapters without writing the drafts.

This has me thinking about plot a lot.

A while back terrypinder mentioned enjoying a book called Plotto, so I went and had a look at it on amazon. The book just looked too complicated for my brain.  (This is not to say it's not a worthwhile book about plot for those to whom it doesn't look too complicated, obviously. I just don't think I have the right sort of brain to figure it out.)

It was bundled on amazon with a little flip-book called The Amazing Story Generator. This book did not look too complicated for me, or for anybody with the brains of a well-trained zucchini, so I bought it. It's a spiral book, set up like those silly-monster flip books you might have had as a kid. You remember those things? Each “page” was actually three separate cardstock pages. One was the monster's head, the one below it was the monster's torso, and the bottom one was the monster's legs, and you could theoreticaly flip through the cards to make thousands of mixed-up monsters, although in reality you probably got bored with it fairly quickly.

In The Amazing Story Generator, instead of monster bits, you get plot bits. Like this:

Penniless after a failed business venture,
a single mother of three
refuses to leave the bathtub
or, less successfully, this:
After winning a bet,
the heir to an oil fortune
leads the charge against a zombie army.
(I call that one less successful because, unlike the first example, there's no obvious logical connection between the elements. It sounds more like GWB lost the bet.)

You can probably see the patterns above. The first and second items are character, the first being an event that brought about change in the character's life and the second the character him/herself. The third item is the obstacle/challenge. That's a pretty good way to construct a modern character-driven plot.

Character+ challenge = plot. If the character were a different person, his/her approach to the challenge would be different and the results would be different. The character may have no control over the situation in which s/he finds him/herself, but how s/he responds determines the plot.

You'll notice that what's missing from the flip-cards is an ending. This seems right to me. The ending can be worked out only after you determine how the character faces the challenge. Personally I have trouble writing if I know the ending, because then it seems predetermined and inevitable and it's hard to get excited about it.

So I kind of like this new toy. I might buy one for my niece for her birthday. But I'm probably not going to get any stories out of it. Since I write middle grade, the first example is something I could use for a supporting character. It could be one of the problems the protagonist has to deal with. But a single mother of three wouldn't do as a middle grade protagonist.

And then there are a lot of things on the flip-cards that just don't interest me at all: aliens, vampires and zombie armies. Perhaps I'll just paste those over with elements that do interest me. In fact, maybe I'll do that with the whole book.

Tonight's challenge:

Write the opening paragraph of a novel. The hypothetical novel should be based on one of the following flip-card plots.

- After a failed bank heist... an out of work writer... travels back in time.

- Gifted with paranormal abilities... a rookie cop...

- Upon breaking a  lifelong promise... an old lady with 20 cats... is mistaken for royalty.

-Longing for a simpler life... a reformed hit man... slowly transforms into a centaur.

Remember that the opening paragraph should plunge us directly into the story, not directly into the backstory, and should contain no information that's not absolutely essential .(E.g. we do not need the protagonist's full name, the reason s/he was given that name, his/her age, occupation, nationality, sexual orientation, educational background and marital status, or the history of his/her country.)
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