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The Brute Force and Ignorance Approach: Writing when you have no plan, no plot, and even no point

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Award-winning novelist Vincent H. O'Neil's comprehensive workshop on generating and shaping an idea, from brainstorming to plot development. Presented at the Sleuthfest mystery convention in Boca Raton, Florida in 2017.

A live audio version of this workshop, along with the live audio for three more of the presentations I have posted on this site, are available for purchase from VW Tapes: Conference & Seminar Recording. If the link below doesn't work, please go to the VW Tapes webpage and type my name in the Search box.

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  • A live audio version of this workshop, along with the live audio for three more of the presentations I have posted on this site, are available for purchase from VW Tapes: Conference & Seminar Recording. If the link below doesn't work, please go to the VW Tapes webpage and type my name in the Search box. http://vwtapes.com/search.aspx?find=Vincent%20O'Neil&fbclid=IwAR0SkwWW5izLbBFvZHKhqOI953GMXhhsFBsg749We3dvq4-43BcFj_S-aMU
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The Brute Force and Ignorance Approach: Writing when you have no plan, no plot, and even no point

  1. 1. The Brute Force & Ignorance Approach Writing when you have no plan, no plot, and even no point Vincent H. O’Neil (aka Henry V. O’Neil) www.vincenthoneil.com
  2. 2. Mystery and Horror as Vincent H. O’Neil The Frank Cole / Exile Mystery Series Supernatural HorrorTheater Mystery Mystery Anthology
  3. 3. Military Science Fiction as Henry V. O’Neil www.vincenthoneil.com
  4. 4. OUTLINE • Introduction • Getting an idea • Developing the plan • Shaping the plot • Alternative techniques • Conclusion
  5. 5. Introduction • It’s not often that we have absolutely no ideas—but it does happen • Sometimes we don’t feel motivated by any of the topics we’re considering • Sometimes we have an idea, but don’t know quite how to start
  6. 6. Getting an Idea • This phase has the greatest potential and the fewest restrictions • This should be fun • Brainstorming – what comes to mind? • Brainstorm the brainstorming • Research as inspiration
  7. 7. Brainstorming • Even if you have a full-blown story in your head, ready to be written, take the time to brainstorm it • Brainstorming lets one good idea lead to another • It really pays off • It’s continuous
  8. 8. Brainstorming What interests you / what do you like? Write down everything that comes to mind Pottery Murder Mysteries Cars Jack & Jill Romance Novels Travel Sports
  9. 9. What Jumps Out? Does one of these topics interest you more than the others, for whatever reason? Pottery Murder Mysteries Cars Romance Novels Travel Sports Jack & Jill
  10. 10. Brainstorm Some More Write down everything that comes to mind Lack of detail Action No backstory Mystery Jack & Jill Only one pail? Accident Unsupervised Small town Sunny day?
  11. 11. Brainstorm the Brainstorming What do you think you might do with this topic? Quest tale Action / adventure Human interest Mystery Jack & Jill Now do some more research
  12. 12. Research as Inspiration • The Complete Idiot’s Guides • YouTube (how-to’s, interviews, documentaries) • Online imagery (Google, Bing, etc.) • Keep your mind open to what these sources are suggesting to you
  13. 13. Explore the Topic Research can give you an idea (if you’re starting from scratch) or help shape your story (if you’ve already got an idea) What’s the rest of this story? Jack & Jill Action? Mystery? Cautionary tale? What’s their motivation? Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing?
  14. 14. Framework of the Plan Flesh it out – take what you have, and use it to identify what you don’t have •Index cards – write the scenes or events on separate cards; these can be easily rearranged •Spreadsheets – computer form of index cards •Follow the characters, events, or themes all the way through to ensure it makes sense before putting any words to paper
  15. 15. Sketching the Plan Jack and Jill went up the hill Jack fell down Two Ideas: Write out the ideas you already have, even if it’s not very much
  16. 16. Sketching the Plan Jack and Jill went up the hill Jack fell down Two Ideas: Ask some questions about what you have Why were they going up the hill? What’s significant about the fall?
  17. 17. Developing the Plan Jack and Jill went up the hill To fetch a pail of water Jack fell down Jack and Jill went up the hill Already have: Fill in the details: Jack fell down and broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after Why were they going up the hill? What’s significant about the fall? We’ve lost track of Jill Write out the ideas and actions you already have, and then fill in around them
  18. 18. The “Because” Approach To fetch a pail of water Jack and Jill went up the hill Jack fell down and broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after You won’t write it this way, but it’s a good idea to ask yourself why a character is doing what he or she is doing—make sure it makes sense Because Why? Why? Because …
  19. 19. Shape the Plot Spreadsheets – computer form of index cards and a lot more: Use spreadsheets to create a timeline / track characters and action Monday Morning Monday Afternoon Monday Evening Jack Asked Jill if she would go with him to fetch a pail of water Went up the hill with Jill. Fell and hurt himself In the hospital Jill Agreed to go with Jack Tripped while running for help Explained what happened Doctor Seeing routine patients Summoned by Jill Treated Jack Characters Time
  20. 20. Ask More Questions To fetch a pail of water Jack and Jill went up the hill Jack fell down and broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after Why a pail? Is there a well up there? No other water sources? Can he move? Is he conscious? Can he tell us what happened? We’ve got two injured children out in the boondocks—what happens next?
  21. 21. Make It Your Own Add anything you like to the spreadsheets: Themes, motivation, clues Monday Morning Monday Afternoon Monday Evening Jack (too much imagination? nosy? overheard something?) Asked Jill if she would go with him to fetch a pail of water (tell her a secret? ask her a question?) Went up the hill with Jill. Fell and hurt himself (or did Jill knock him down?) In the hospital (no memory? might remember and tattle? might blurt out the secret?) Jill (has a secret? someone to protect? distrusts Jack?) Agreed to go with Jack (wants to know what he knows? worried what he may ask?) Tripped while running for help (Jack tripped her? she fell on purpose?) Explained what happened (telling the story her way? concerned Jack might wake up?) Doctor (knows the secret?) Seeing routine patients Summoned by Jill (warned? fooled?) Treated Jack (hoping he’ll regain consciousness—or afraid?)
  22. 22. See the Plot in Its Entirety Identify the high points / key areas • If you consider a segment to be a high point or key area, the reader should feel the same way • Build it up, make it clear, or just hit them with it, but a high point really shouldn’t feel the same way as explanatory passages High Points Beginning End
  23. 23. Flip It – Start With the High Points If your brainstorming took you immediately to the big moments in your story, run with that. Imagine these key points of your story as the high ground in an area inundated with water. As you imagine the story around those high points, the water recedes and reveals more detail. Visible High Points
  24. 24. Flip It – Start With the High Points As you consider the events that could have led up to the high points, the rest of your story begins to emerge. While it’s a good idea to have the biggest high point at the end of the tale (the climax) that doesn’t mean the rest of the story lacks big moments—don’t be afraid to add them in.
  25. 25. Flip It – Start With the High Points After you’ve developed a complete storyline, make sure that the portions connecting the high points make sense, mesh with the big moments, and keep the reader’s attention.
  26. 26. The Jump Start • If you’re really having trouble getting an idea, try this: • Think of a phrase that might work as a slogan, or as a movie tagline • Keep it simple You run—you die Trust no one Beware the perfect plan Make your own luck Stay in the light Your mileage may vary
  27. 27. The Jump Start Pick one, and ask questions about it You run—you die Strange predator? Local saying? Is it a lie? DO you die? Annual competition?
  28. 28. The Jump Start Explore the questions you’ve raised You run—you die Strange predator? Local saying? Is it a lie? Annual competition? Toxic environment beyond a certain boundary? Survival race? Can be outsmarted? Escape is good? All-night hunt? Actual advantage?Lacks one of the senses? Communal safety rule?
  29. 29. Conclusion • Get an idea by brainstorming or letting the research inspire you • Decide how you are going to get your idea across or tell your tale • Flesh it out using an outline, index cards, a spreadsheet, or whatever works for you • Follow the characters / events all the way through
  30. 30. Mystery and Horror as Vincent H. O’Neil The Frank Cole / Exile Mystery Series Supernatural HorrorTheater Mystery Mystery Anthology
  31. 31. Military Science Fiction as Henry V. O’Neil www.vincenthoneil.com

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