Plot development is best approached holistically, and if you’re struggling with it, I would recommend trying a plot formula to structure your story. However, these scene ideas can certainly jumpstart a flagging plotline, especially if you’re a pantser.
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What develops plot?
- ACTION & REACTION – It’s easy to see how action develops plot, but writers often miss the importance of reaction. Characters reflecting on events that have taken place can have an important effect on the plot. Dwight Swain calls this “Scene and Sequel”.
- DECISIONS – The decisions made by characters can change the direction of the plot, as well as develop character.
- SUCCESSES & FAILURES – Part of the action/reaction dialectic is the tension created by the success or failure of an action or series of actions. This determines the course the plot takes, and the course it avoids.
- CONFLICT – Conflict (whether internal or external) provides the interface between character, plot, and world. Both the creation of conflict, and its resolution can move the plot forward.
- MOVEMENT (INWARD OR OUTWARD) – The character leaves on a journey, or a character comes to town. Movement sparks off more movement.
- CHANGES IN PERSPECTIVE – The narrator can switch the perspective to refocus the story, but the character’s internal Shift in perspective is also often a vital source for revelations that deepen the plot.
- TIME – This is obvious when you think about it, but in practice sometimes you need to remind yourself that you may not have given your plot enough (story) time to develop. Things take time.
- A character or event starts a ticking clock.
- A character (the antagonist?) reveals a deeper motivation.
- A stranger enters the story.
- There is a chase. Who is caught? Who escapes?
- Foreshadow a character or event.
- A valuable object (MacGuffin?) enters the story and the characters all vie for possession of it.
- A previously neutral character is drawn into the conflict.
- An attack takes the character and their allies by surprise.
- A success creates a new problem.
- A group of characters split up to deal with different parts of a problem.
- A character or flashback provides the history of an event or person.
- A new antagonist emerges.
- A character or group of characters takes time to weigh their options and come to a decision.
- Show time passing.
- A problem that the character thought they had solved returns, more difficult and more urgent.
- A character or group of characters is trapped, as time runs out.
- Show the consequences of failure.
- A conflict is resolved.
- A character (forcefully, eagerly, unwillingly?) assumes command.
- A fight erupts.
- A character or group of characters react to the previous scene.
- A character leaves and forces other characters to fill the (narrative or physical) space they vacated.
- A character shifts their perspective, or the perspective shifts to another character (who may be the narrator).
- A character relates something that has happened “off-stage” or internally.
- A character or group of characters form a new alliance.
- A judgement is enacted.
- A character creates a diversion.
- A character asks or sends for help or goes to the rescue.
- A character or group of characters leave on a quest.
- A character or group of characters struggle to avoid conflict.