Plot threads

Winkletter  •  18 Sept 2023   •    

I love how ideas can evolve over time and inspire new ideas.

A couple years ago I wrote an article about backloading a new year’s resolution. Rather than try to jump straight into drastic change on day 1, set a starting point and end point, then figure out all the steps in between.

I was reminded of this when suggesting an idea to use AI for a goal-setting app: use AI to fill in the steps in between a starting point and end point.

And this made me further ponder using this idea to flesh out threads in a story plot. Often a writer has an idea of where things are going to start and end, and much work goes into figuring out the steps in between. I tried the workflow out with an experiment in ChatGPT: Fantasy Plot Thread Ideas.

  • Concept Development: Develop a basic concept for a story. In this case I picked one suggestion about a town where everyone gets a compass that reveals their destiny, but one boy’s compass just spins wildly.
  • Thread Categories: Start asking the AI to create plot threads in one of six categories: Terrain, Relationships, Projects, Growth, Conflict, and Chronology. Pick out the ones you like, and let it know.
  • Start and End Points: Pick out the first thread and ask for a starting point and end point for that thread. In this case I picked out a thread called The Labyrinthine Forest, where the protagonist travels through a forest to find the Heart Tree which is also supposed to reveal one’s destiny.
  • In Between Points: Ask the AI for important points in between the two ends of the thread. In this case it came up with five points in between, which meant this thread had seven main points.
  • Insert or Combine Points: Ask the AI to insert new points, or combine points. Here I asked the AI to add a new point between the starting point and the first point where the character is already at the edge of the forest. So it added a point called The Skeptic’s Warning, and combined two of the points into a single encounter.

If the author sets up a way to organize these threads with a spreadsheet, Kanban board, or maybe even notecards, the minimum viable story would be all of these points woven together. This would give the author a clear path through the story where they are introducing, developing, and tying up all the different plot threads so you end up with a nice, satisfying story at the end.


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