Stuck in a plot? Feeling like your story could use some spice? Want to avoid cliches and plot holes?
Seek out that special someone who likes to ask too many questions, and sit them down for some tea and cake and questioning. Ideally, pick someone who isn’t familiar with your story. And all the questions you find answers to, make sure they are reflected in your story!
You: Hey, I’m going to explain my book/story/thing. Can you just ask any and all questions you have? The hope is to find anywhere I haven’t thought things through and build on things from there.
Friendly Interrogator (Fi): Sure. As long as there’s coffee involved.
You: There’s no coffee. Only tea.
Fi, narrowing eyes: Very well. Continue.
You: So my story is about this girl who lives on an island called Persill. The island is one of many in a place called the Endless Archipelago, where there are only islands, no continents. Persill island is home to the rare Evergreen trees, so-called because they never wilt or die. There are spruce trees, oaks, firs, maples… and they are all magical and always green. The leaves from one can heal scars, and pine needles from one tree can be brewed into a healing tea.
Fi: Like this? *holds up cup of bitter tea that is decidedly not coffee*
You: You’re not going to let this go, are you?
Fi: *deadpan stare*
THIRTEEN MINUTES LATER
You settle back into your seat, several dollars poorer.
Fi, clutching cup of steaming coffee: Please, continue. Don’t get so distracted.
You: So. Trees. Always green. Some heal sickness, some heal wounds, and some are used to fertilize and ensure bountiful crops.
Fi: What kind of crops?
You: I don’t know. Probably regular crops? Like carrots and tomatoes?
Fi: I don’t think you grow those at the same time of year. You should probably research that.
You, taking notes: Research… crops… time of year…. got it. Now, all the archipelago islands are controlled by one government, and the king wants—
Fi, over steaming coffee: How does one government control that many separate lands? And why is it always a monarchy? Why not an emperor or a dictator or a Supreme-o Leader Numero Uno?
You: Well, I guess the king—
Fi raises an eyebrow.
You:—or the supreme-o Leader… would have to have smaller local governments in place. But anyway, he—
Fi: And why is it a him? Why can’t the leader of the whole world be a woman?
You: I guess I didn’t really think about that. I just sort of made him a king. Or supreme-o leader. I guess I could think about that some more.
Fi takes a slow deliberate sip of coffee.
You: So there’s this girl on the island. She’s hired as a climber with other kids because they’re nimble enough to climb to the tops of the really-really-really tall trees to harvest leaves and seeds and such. But Supreme-O Uno is demanding more and more of the Evergreen yields, and leaving little to none for the native islanders.
Fi: Why does the island need magic tree-stuff at all? Why does the genderless Supreme-o want it?
You: Okay, well, the island needs the Evergreen yields to make their crops grow, and the crops won’t grow without it. That makes sense, right? And Supreme-o needs the Evergreen because all the other islands are suffering without it.
Fi: I guess that’s cool. The Supreme-o isn’t being a selfish jerk. They just want their kingdom to succeed and survive. But why can’t they just transplant some trees to the other island? So EVERYONE can have bountiful crops.
You, ponderous: Probably… because… because the trees can’t be harvested or damaged, or else they stop yielding leaves and fruit and stuff. And Supreme-o’s ships are on their way to collect the harvest, but they’re falling behind. So Ria volunteers to join the dangerous group of climbers to help sustain her family and be prepared for the ships to come.
Fi, stirring coffee idly: What kind of ships? What era are we in? Is the internet a thing yet? How about steam engines or gasoline or nukes? I guess they wouldn’t have trains if they’re on islands.
You: Er… I hadn’t really decided what era we’re in. Something with ships. Which is… like… every era. But probably no Internet? But a loose industrial-era would work, I guess. Except instead of trains and coal and stuff, they’re focused on ships and aircraft.
Fi: You mentioned a main character? What’s so special about being a climber? Is it just a monkey race to get the harvest in time?
You: So Ria has to collect her quota for the harvest, and she ends up trespassing on the forbidden property of the island’s oldest family who refuse to let the island harvest from their trees.
Fi: How come? If they’re behind on quota, there’s a local government, AND the other islands are depending on it, then why would this family say no? And why wouldn’t the government MAKE them hand it over? I mean, have you even seen what Higher Power Folks do for natural resources?
You: It’s complicated. The family claims that they are the ones who grew the first Evergreen plants generations ago, and so technically ALL of the Evergreens belong to them. They struck a deal a long time ago to let the islanders harvest the trees, but only the ones outside their land.
Fi: But why does Parsnip Island let that restriction stay in place if things are so dire?
You, slightly frustrated: It’s Persill, not Parsnip, sassypants. And there’s got to be a reason. Maybe Ria doesn’t know why, and everyone else is too afraid to find out? Something dangerous or secretive?
Fi: You should probably figure that out. So what happens when she trespasses?
You: She gets startled when she sees something she can’t explain: a strange boy high in the trees. Instead of dark veins along his arms, they are green, like the veins of a leaf—green like the Evergreen trees.
Fi: Why does she not know who he is?
You: On a small island, just like a small town, everyone knows or recognizes each other.But the family who owns the Evergreen trees are reclusive. There are rumors, but no one has really seen them in a long time.
Fi, slurping noisily from almost-empty coffee cup: Speaking of islands. What’s this Endless Archipelago? Certainly it ends somewhere, right? What does that mean?
You: It’s a cool name.
Fi’s eyes narrow.
You, excited now: Okay… maybe it’s actually endless? Like a flat world that goes on forever. Or maybe you enter the fog at the edge of the map and appear at a different random edge? Or maybe you never come back. Maybe sending someone in a small boat into the fog is a penalty for crimes, like if you steal evergreen yield. And maybe that happened to someone Ria knew, or someone in her family. And maybe she faces the same fate if she fails to meet her quota or for trespassing?
Fi, smiling: There you go. Full of ideas now. You’re welcome. Hope you took notes. And we need more coffee.