No one ever said plotting is easy. Telling a story that has truth and power as well as internal consistency and logic is something that every writer fails at more or less constantly; it’s part of the job. Your first, second, and possibly tenth draft of a story may not necessarily be airtight when it comes to plot and plot holes—or even coherent.

Sometimes what happens, of course, is that you reach a fork in the old plot and you have to decide what happens next. And this is where more than one talented writer has paused for several years or even decades, frozen in terror, because the next step in your plot might destroy all that has gone before if you’re not super careful about it. You have plenty of ideas, each of which takes your story in a different direction. But which one is right? Which one to choose?

Here’s a thought: Don’t choose. Write them all.

Pick-a-Path

You might have encountered a “pick-a-path” adventure book, otherwise known as “choose your own adventure” books. These tell a story that pauses at regular intervals to let the reader choose the next plot event. At the end of each chapter the reader has a choice: open the door, turn to page 34. Answer the phone, turn to page 109. Set the place on fire and hum a Van Halen song as you slow-walk away from the fireball, turn to page 344.

Sometimes the choice put you on the path to a “good” or “bad” ending. Sometimes it killed you. Part of the fun was trying to make your way through all of the possible plots—but the point is, the hard-working authors of those stories had to come up with all possible plotlines. So why not do the same?

If you’re having trouble seeing the next step in your story, you can Plot your way through it, Pants your way through it—or go with some Extreme Plotting and literally develop every possible branch of your story, all the way down to the ending. This can be a clarifying exercise that reveals the hidden weaknesses of some of your ideas, and it can also lead you to some surprising brilliancies that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise.

And if it still doesn’t help you get to the end, you can always set the place on fire and walk away humming a Van Halen song. Personally, I recommend Running with the Devil.

 

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