Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 12, 2014

Three Gold Nuggets for Plotting from Everyday Life

Marine Iguana

Marine Iguana

Two months ago I wrote about writing lessons I learned in the Galapagos Islands. I've been thinking about that post. After returning from a week floating on a lazy river in Mexico, I've got more ideas on the subject, especially since I now have characters and a plot for another brand new book. (I can't travel anymore, my brain might burst if I get any more book ideas!)

As a math teacher, I'm always on the lookout for new, better ways to help my students understand abstract concepts. As writers, I believe we're all on the lookout for new characters and fresh plots because, unfortunately, compelling characters and plots rarely materialize out of thin air. I'd like to share three gold nuggets for crafting your humdrum experiences into amazing stories.

1. What task are you grumpiest about in your daily routine? Amplify that activity and figure out who would be willing to complete that activity every day of their lives? Why would that person be willing to do that probably-thankless job?

Example from Fae's life: A couple of years ago I decided to do my first "cleanse"–twenty-one days of protein powder drinks and protein (not sweet energy!) bars. After the first week I decided I was crazy, but I wanted to finish what I'd started. By the end of the second week, I wondered who would knowingly ever agree to do what I was doing. Easy, only a prisoner in jail would survive indefinitely on my "diet." Only a terrible crime could sentence a person to such a facility, which would have to be inescapable. Riots by prisoners would be useless. (This is obviously how I felt every time I turned on that cursed blender.)

My YA prison world was born. The whole farthest-away-from-Earth planet was the prison for the losers of a planetary war. To the young people born on the world, protein drinks and bars are normal. They don't relate to their parents' stories of a barbecued burger or ice cream.

2. Think of your last vacation or week-end trip. What was the best part–the location, the people you were with, something you planned to do, or something that was spontaneous and not under your control? Whether it's a contemporary, historical, paranormal, or futuristic, you can morph that experience into something for your characters to enjoy, something where they can connect.

Iguana Example from Fae's life: Last week I floated down a lazy river, looking at the iguanas on the edge, the palm trees surrounding the river, listening to conversations of others who raced past me. I bobbed down little rapids, swam out of doldrums, ducked under waterfalls. By the third day I was reveling in what great–and necessary–R & R this trip was after the stress of the previous month. And the seeds for a new book emerged.

Okay, I write science fiction, so I'm looking at an R & R planet with outdoor activities, including my lazy river, a casino, and other leaning-to-the-corrupt options. An excursion to the countryside would work for a historical. A paranormal could have wonderful possibilities in such a setting. Perhaps one of the characters would own the property.

3. Think of the last really bad thing that happened to you, either physically or emotionally. Yep, make it happen to the character that will have the most trouble handling it.

Puerta Neuvo Example from Fae's life: Last week, I went down a waterslide for the first time in my life. It's not that I'd been afraid, but as a former lifeguard, I was always the one to catch the kids at the end of the slide. I climbed the three stories of stairs and watched kids throw themselves down the chute. I did the same. It was exhilarating. It was fun. Right until I landed on my knee at the bottom of the shallow water at the end of the slide.

Luckily I was traveling with my friend who is a physical therapist, so I was confident she was right that nothing was broken. But the pain was terrible, and the movement and icing were brutal. Two days later I was back in the lazy river, protecting my leg from the rafters passing me, worrying if I'd be able to exit the river when I got tired. I walked like a peg-legged pirate and couldn't sit or stand without groaning–an improvement from swallowing screams the first twenty-four hours.

And guess what? My  SEAL-type hero of the new R & R book, well, he does something stupid, hurts his knee and is incapacitated for 24 hours. Only he's not just in excruciating pain, he's in jeopardy. Heck, if I hurt, I can make my characters hurt. And the best part is, since I felt it, I can get the words down on the page to help my readers feel it, too.

Do you have an example from your life that you've used as inspiration for a scene or a whole book? Is there something you'd like to use but haven't figured out how?

About Fae

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science  fiction freak.  Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than horrors of algebra lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen


15 comments on “Three Gold Nuggets for Plotting from Everyday Life”

    1. You're right, Vicki. When I'm on vacation I pay attention to everything. At home, I put my head down and plow through.

  1. Maybe that's what I need - a vacation, floating down a lazy river, heading over to the swim-up bar....sigh.

    Too bad I can't do that...my vacations tend toward high-mileage motorcycling, or long days, fly fishing.

    But maybe I'd plot better if I did!

    1. I'd say a motorcycle trip is a great way to get plot ideas, Laura. Uhm, didn't you write a book about a woman who road her motorcycle around the country fixing up houses?

      1. Never fear, Jenny, there was a swim-up bar, though I never got there. That was the pool with a DJ, fun competitions and prizes.

  2. Great ideas, Fae. I regularly pull emotions and circumstances from my own life. My last novel had three people die - each one important to the main character. The emotions my MC felt were emotions I'd felt - though she handled those emotions differently than I did. I like the idea of pulling whole scenes from a vacation and grumpy moments amplified. Thanks for giving me new ways to think about it.

    1. I'm not as good at sharing my own deep emotions as I'd like. The idea of having my characters react differently than I do is a great takeaway from your comment. Have fun with your grumpy moments!

    2. I do the same thing Carol. My characters may face similar situations or emotions but I'll have them react in ways that I wouldn't or couldn't (or wish I could 🙂 ).

      1. The "wish I could" is a great reminder that, unlike real life, we can think about that great come-back line until it's perfect, Orly.

  3. Fae, the descriptions of floating on a lazy river were wonderful. In this current state of my life, I am not doing much traveling ... that is not in the physical sense. I travel in my head or get lost in the calm blue of the ocean andthe perpetual sunshine. I draw on my memories of a long-ago time in a strange place called Brooklyn, dig deep into the trunk of crazy characters and find new ways to combine them into a series of mishaps. I'm just a little devil that way.

    Ideas for a book? They might come from a conversation I overheard in a restaurant, the look of a stranger I pass on the street. I honestly never know and I suppose that is the best part ... I float on the river of my memories 🙂

  4. "I float on the river of my memories"--and what wonderful gold nuggets are in that river! Don't we always have our antennas out for those "odd" overheard conversations? Often I revert back to my old geeky ways of ignoring people in favor of obscure mental pursuits, but I have to be more observant all the time to grab those nuggets that float by. Thanks for helping me figure that out!

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