May 16


Seven days to get writing again: day four

The introduction to this series is here. But the idea is simple: one quick writing exercise a day for seven days. Post the results in a comment below, or, if you prefer, email them to me (at my name at gmail).

Day Four: Plotxercise!

Some evenings in Philadelphia, I would go to a Starbucks on a busy corner of Walnut Street, perch on a stool in the window, and do “plotxercise.” This terrible name is my own invention. The idea is to decide on some set parameters for a story, then try to fit many stories into those parameters, doing one example after another until your brain explodes.

There are unlimited ways to do plotxercise.

You simply to decide on a set of key parameters, and try to fit a protagonist and some events into that framework.

Here's one possible approach:

  1. Protagonist is a _____ in ______

2. who thinks she wants to achieve _______

3. but who deep down, in order to be a wiser, happier, or more complete person, needs to discover ____.

4. When she is on the verge of finally achieving / not achieving ______, she suddenly understands / fails to understand ______.

Here's one from me:

Craig Chapman is a financial planner in Knoxville, Tennessee, who thinks he simply has to get through the rest of a multi-family road trip without his wife discovering that he and the wife of the family in the car behind had a drunken kiss at a party the previous week. However, Craig actually needs to get free of his narcissistic self-concern and see that his 14-year-old daughter is really suffering–from something completely unrelated to him. When he is on the verge of confessing everything to his wife, he suddenly overhears his daughter throwing up over the hotel room sink, and he understands his responsibilities to other people are more important than the contents of his own head.

And, just to show that this plot schematic works for even the greatest works of literature:

Gabriel Conroy is a literary man in Dublin who wants to be a social triumph at his aunts' annual party–he wants to give a great speech that everyone will admire–but who, deep down, actually needs to achieve a deeper, more profound communion with Ireland and Irishness. At the end of the night, when he has dramatically failed to achieve a night of passionate love-making with his wife, he is suddenly granted a vision of that profound communion: the snow falling all over Ireland, over both metropolitan Dublin and the far countryside, over both the living and the dead.

(if you like this particular “plot schematic,” take a look at John Truby's excellent Anatomy of Story, where I discovered it. And if you haven't yet read Joyce's The Dead, Melville House's novella series is a good place to get an attractive copy.)

Have a go yourself! I'm looking forward to reading your 'xercises.

Lastly: if you're enjoying this series, I would be very happy if you could share a link to it on facebook or twitter. Thank you to everyone who has linked to it so far! This is turning into a very exciting week.

Daniel Wallace



Philadelphia, plot, prompt, writing exercise

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  • Liza is a human resources manager in Chicago who thinks that all she wants is to just get pregnant already, then she’ll be happier. But really, in order to get over the depression she has been in, she needs work out who she is as a person, whether or not there are children in her future. She feels so lonely, and travels to Southeast Asia to “find herself”. While there, a “fight by skype” with her older sister makers Liza realise that she has been selfish, putting so much effort into her non-existent mother-child relationship at the expense of the great relationships she already has.

    • Jenn: this is a very good start for a story. I wonder if the SE Asia setting and the skype conversation can interact in some way. Perhaps she sees something during the day that she only understands later, while yelling at her sister…

      • This is actually the plot of my WIP novel that I’m grappling a bit at the moment. This format helped me work it out a bit, but I love the idea of using the SE Asia setting more strongly. Such a lot to work with!

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