Using Plot Formulas to Spark Creativity

In my experience, when I get stuck and find it difficult to get my daily writing done, I start to beat myself up, and that only leads to increased pressure and decreased creativity. So what do I do? I change things up, and I have fun while doing it. In his book THE NERDIST WAY, Chris Hardwick talks about bands who can’t come up with new songs so they intentionally try to write the biggest POS song they can. With the pressure gone, creativity returns.

As for me, I like to write a different type of story (if the novel’s stuck, I start a short story, for example). Or I write in a different genre (my novel is fantasy, so maybe I’ll try a mystery story). I might try a different sort of setting, character, or plot. I find that variety helps me break free of bouts of laziness, self-pity, or overactive internal editors.

So what’s a good way to start writing a new type of story? Use a plot formula. There are tons of books and articles that list these formulas. For example, you can find a summary of “Master Plot” formulas here (broken down into the 1 master plot, 3, 7, 20, or even 36 master plots–every author has their own theory on how many plots exist apparently). You can also read about the book PLOTTO on Brain Pickings. PLOTTO covers nearly 1,500 plot summaries, but the notes sometimes read like chess notation.

How should you use the plot formulas to spark creativity? It’s all about having fun with your writing, and trying something new right? So pick the formula that makes you laugh, either because it’s strange, silly, or just wildly different from what you normally write. Pick the one that describes a story you wouldn’t write in a million years. Get your creativity working in a new direction. If you see a way to twist the plot into an even stranger direction, take it.

Here’s the beauty of this plan. In my experience, it’ll move your stressful, blocking story to the background where your subconscious can stew over it–your “boys in the basement” as Stephen King says in ON WRITING. As an added bonus, when you’re stretching that creativity muscle, you’re going to learn something new. But because the pressure’s off (you’re just having fun, remember?), it won’t feel like a lesson. It’ll be a lark, a child’s game, a mad scientist’s experiment. You may not produce a best seller or an award-winning short story, but you probably won’t produce something completely worthless either.

What do you use to get over writer’s block? When you’re jammed up, what do you do to start writing once again? Leave a comment below.

One thought on “Using Plot Formulas to Spark Creativity”

  1. This was a whole lecture that I recently went to during my MFA residency. The lecturer had this whole book of plots…can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but I can get it to you if you want it. Basically, she was saying the same thing you are, that going for a known plot structure (such as the atonement story) can help you learn more about your story and give you somewhere to start. She said it’s all about what YOU do with it, what truth you bring to that plot. Refreshing stuff, especially for writers who have WIP’s that are super character-driven!