Plotting the plot (or, How to Write a Logline)

Last weekend we began the first of four exercises designed to help you think about National Novel Writing Month. Or, as we have come to know it, the Beautiful Month of November That Holds Such Promise and Ends in Tears and the Ashes of Fifty Thousand Burned Words Ripped from Our Gullets.

You know, NaNoWriMo.

While we've designed a program of sorts for this purpose, we have also designed it NOT FOR THIS PURPOSE. Yep, turns out you can use these exercises any time for any longish-form writing (it will work on short stories too, though short stories have a lot less time for layering plot and wide arcs full of subtext). We borrowed from this post here which is a little more screenplay-focused.

Last Saturday we went through these items step by step, building on them along the way as you see in the examples. By the end we had totally serviceable plot descriptions that will help with this weekend's exercise, How to Outline.

So here ya go, the development of a plot or logline:

Here's how we do it:

1) Set up your characters (use your own or randomly pick)

- Choose a protagonist

- What is their goal?

- Who or what is actively moving against them (antagonist)?

2) Describe what defines your character without using their name, i.e. their profession, their calling, e.g. "A wrestler" or "A superhero"

3) Use an adjective that describes the character, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler or an insomniac superhero

4) Tack on the main goal and relate it to the character, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler who wakes up next to a dead hooker

5) Add the antagonist to the statement, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler who wakes up next to a dead hooker is on a mission to find who framed him and clear his name

6) Describe what's at stake, or add a ticking time bomb, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler who wakes up next to a dead hooker is on a mission to find who framed him and clear his name before her body is discovered

7) Add the backdrop, or setting, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler who wakes up next to a dead hooker is on a mission to find who framed him and clear his name before her body is discovered in the freezer of the wrestling-themed cafe downstairs

8) Add a twist or a hint of a resolution for yourself, e.g. An alcoholic wrestler who wakes up next to a dead hooker is on a mission to find who framed him and clear his name before her body is discovered in the freezer of the wrestling-themed cafe downstairs, only to find out his brother orchestrated the hit to steal his identity and live on as Count Mysterio the Magnificent.

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