If, like me, you struggle with your plots, I have some ideas that might help.

1) Story cubes – I bought these from my local bookshop (where you will also find a whole mass of materials to help you write – support your bookshop, before they all close!). They are nine dice, with simple pictures on each face – a skull, a heart and so on. You throw the dice, then try to make a story out of the pictures. It’s very useful for kickstarting the imagination.

2) Eavesdropping – Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote that ‘Life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind could invent’. (I have that quote on my wall). The best way, I find, to discover how strange life can be is to eavesdrop on the conversation of strangers. (Agatha Christie did this all the time – look how many of her stories hinge on someone half over-hearing a strangers conversation). I suggest the bus – you can get really close to people whilst not looking like you’re getting close. Just make sure you change all names and recognisable details…

3) Dictionary – find a dictionary, the bigger the better. Open it at random, close your eyes and pick a word on the page. Do this seven or nine times (odd numbers work better. Honestly. I have no idea why). Then use the words you’ve picked to build up a framework of a plot.

4) Book Quote – get a book that you, or your character, enjoys. Open it at random, find a sentence. Use the sentence as a quote in your story, and let it direct the next part of your plot. (Look how many writers, including non-fiction writers, use quotes as chapter headings). I once used Alice in Wonderland this way when writing a Doctor Who story, and it worked beautifully.

5) The News – this falls under the ‘reality is strange’ heading really. Watch the news, the whole thing, countrywide, worldwide and local. You might be unlucky and have a slow news day, but if you’re lucky, there’ll be a plethora of good stories that fit together nicely.

6) Tarot – don’t laugh. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in Tarot cards or not, they are really useful for guiding and focusing your mind and for tapping into your subconscious. You can find Tarot layouts online (and probably virtual Tarot cards too). Try and do a fairly complex reading for one of your characters. It can be really useful – say you have no idea what a character will do. You read their Tarot, and come up with the Lovers, Judgement and Death. There’s a decent plot right there.

7) Sure you need a plot? – One of my favourite books is To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Like so many of her books, hardly anything happens, yet it is utterly, beautifully haunting. I cannot tear myself away from it. Sometimes, all you need is your characters, and the language.


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