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Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius

Lesson 13 of 17

The Plot Problem Exercise

Lisa Cron

Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius

Lisa Cron

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Lesson Info

13. The Plot Problem Exercise

Lesson Info

The Plot Problem Exercise

And when you're thinking about the plot problem, what is that gonna be? What is it that has to power to grow, escalate, and complicate from the beginning and to force your protagonist to deal and confront the ramifications of that misbelief from beginning to end? If you have more than one idea, run it through and see which one is the best. If you only have one idea, be sure it actually has the potential and possibility to grow, escalate, and complicate in this way that we're talking about. And if not, dive down and see what might. Because here's the thing, when you came up with this what if before, you had this vague idea of what was gonna happen in the plot. You know way more at this point. So at this point, what sounded like a good idea then, might not sound so good now. But you might have something even better because of the depths that you've dug to just within these few hours. Or, few days for you guys out there who've had much more time to do this. So that's the question now and ...

that is the exercise. And we will workshop this exercise afterwards. So just what do you think the best, most potent plot problem is gonna be? And you have three minutes. Ready, begin. Great, so how did that feel? Did you find that whatever you started with was where you still were with what the plot problem might be? Did it change at all or are you just totally lost? (audience laughs) Which is always a possibility and that's okay. 'Cause often throwing out something that wouldn't have worked is the most important step of all. Because the last thing you wanna do is fall down a path, where from the first step, it's not gonna work. And then you get all the way to the end and go, wow, wait a minute, that had something that was not real, it was kinda wonky. Once I fixed that, now everything else has to go. So throwing out things is as valuable as coming up with something that actually does work. So let's workshop. So was it hard? Yeah. And just a show of hands, did any of you, like whatever it was you were thinking in the beginning with the what if, did it change it all? Is it kind of a different thing now? So yeah, so it has changed. And did it change because you had to dive more deeply into the how it's gonna change your protagonist internally, is that, it came away from just being a plot? And that's the problem. Writing is taught as if it's just about the plot. That's why, and I know it's hard to say, but that's why neither pantsing or plotting tends to work because both of them focus on the plot, as if that's what the story's about and everything else is incidental. But if you get a plot, then you've got a story. It doesn't work that way. So let's workshop two of them. Michelle? Okay, so the plot problem is that my character's step-father, who had abused her as a child, moved close by and she feels scared that he has secrets about her that will be revealed and will make her family reject her. Wow, and (laughs)-- It will complicate him as well. And that's really something. I mean, you can see again, and you can see, remember, stories begin in medias res. Everything that you just said. Her father had abused her, step-father had abused her. And now shows up out of the blue and now she's afraid that that's gonna come out and that somehow she's gonna be tainted by it, and her whole family's gonna reject her. And you can see everything that's gonna happen is based on everything that happened in the past. And you can see what's at stake. And we can guess because obviously at this point, we don't have three hours to go into it unfortunately, but that there's some place where she's holding some guilt in that probably is totally and completely undeserved, but there's a place in there where she's gonna learn, wait a minute, why would she believe that? If she was abused by him, which she was, then what could she possibly think would happen? How does she see the world that she could think that if her family found out, they would then reject her? That means that there's some unfinished business in there that she's taken with her from being a child up until this moment and probably kept it in thinking, okay, the danger isn't there. Now suddenly the danger's there, and she's got to dive into it and go, okay, what exactly is going on? I mean, yeah, and that's a perfect example of a plot problem that is about solving a problem, both internal and external, which just in the way that you even said that, which is she's afraid that this is gonna really make her family not value her anymore. It really lets us know, well, wait a minute. She's got that internal conflict. We can feel that. So that's really, really a great place to start. Really good. Okay, Anna? So I was trying to go back to the pages that I had before, but essentially the character misses the guidance from her mother because of something that happened when she was younger. And she looks to, without the guidance, she looks to her peers for acceptance and running with the cool crowd. So-- But let me ask you a question. Okay. What's at stake? Like she's missing, 'cause you've got a lot of great elements there. You've got the elements of because she doesn't have her mom she, because she doesn't have her mom, she is looking for guidance. She doesn't have it. She's trying to get it on the outside, but guidance for what? Like what is that ticking clock? What is that gonna go toward? Making a decision. What decision? I know you (laughs) but see, this is the kind of type, but that's perfect, Okay. And that's great, but that is the question. She, well, there is a part in the story that there's a climax and she pretends that she goes along with him when she doesn't. Right. And it's a secret that she keeps to herself. Right, but you still would wanna go. And you're telling me bits and pieces of it, which is fine 'cause you probably have way more, almost always writers have way more than we have time to dive into and that you've come in with. But the question would be for a plot problem. And that's a great beginning, but it would be, okay, what is that thing? Where is that going toward? The notion that she lied about something, or did something for a reason that she isn't admitting to herself or admitting, is still where is this going? What is this gonna culminate in? And so X is gonna happen. Now, in the very beginning when you're first thinking of it, obviously you don't have all of those pieces yet. But some of them are usually there in sort of a inchoate form and it allows you to create them as you go forward. But it sounds like you've got a lot. I mean, it sounds like, is there that one thing that it goes toward at the end? Yeah, I kinda don't wanna say it, but yeah. And so you totally don't have to, but so you know what it is, and that's the point for everybody. As long as there is that thing at the end that's gonna happen, and that you know that you're building toward it in this internal struggle, which it sounds like you've got a really good internal struggle. And the great thing about it is it allows you to ask the questions so that you can really probe into both what is that, how is it manifesting with these kids and what is that costing her internally to do that? Okay. But really good. Really good, okay.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Do you feel like you have a book inside of you but don’t know how to bring it to life?

Lisa Cron has helped thousands of aspiring writers master the unparalleled power of story so they can write a novel or memoir capable of riveting readers!

In this class, you’ll learn:

  • What your readers’ brain is hardwired to crave in every story they read – and it’s not what you think.
  • Why writing a successful novel is not about having the innate “talent” that only a lucky few are born with, but something you can learn!
  • How to write a first draft that reads like a fifth draft, and cut down rewriting in the process.
  • How to become a more confident writer, and make whatever you’re writing now deeper, richer, more compelling, and able to do what all stories are meant to do: change how the reader sees the world, themselves, and what they do in the world.

This class is not filled with random, general writing exercises – rather each exercise builds on the one before it, giving you the tools to create a riveting story from the inside out.

Your goal: to build a novel (or memoir or screenplay) by first creating the material from which the story, and the plot, will organically begin to appear.

Writing a novel doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With this class, Lisa busts the writing myths that have held you back, and gives you a clear, concise, concrete step-by-step method to find your story and share it with the world! 


a Creativelive Student

A woman with a wealth of information to share and who is totally engaging. Lisa was like a really good book that you didn't want to put down. I watched this course over two days, eager to press the play button on the next lesson. Passionate but to the point, everything Lisa had to say was interesting and meaningful. I am just starting on my first novel and her knowledge and insights are invaluable. Highly recommend.

Lacey Heward

This was hugely influential to my writing. I don't actually think I knew how to write until this class. Lisa Cron is a great speaker and teacher. She is well prepared and does an excellent job getting through all the important material. Everything I learned in this class could be applied to a book, essay, and even possibly one's own self-reflection. Who doesn't want to understand the point of life's story? Cron does an excellent job of getting to THE POINT. I have already recommended this class and will reference it again and again as I write. Thank you!

Tracy Holczer

I'm going to go back and watch this course every time I begin a new novel. It took me six years to figure out how to write my first novel, discovering many of these concepts as I went. I can't imagine the time I would have saved had I been able to consider them more carefully before I began. I recommend this to anyone who is just starting out, but also, to established writers. Every book is a different house to build and this course really helps set down a good foundation.