Plotting Fiction: 3 Tips To Help You To Plot Like Shakespeare

Hate plotting fiction? Me too, at times.

Why not do what Shakespeare did? He “stole” plots, as many, many authors do. “Stealing” your plot takes the pressure off. You can focus on building your characters and setting, and developing conflict.

Plotting fiction: plots you can steal

In Plotting Made Simple: The One-Hour Plotting Strategy, I outlined my usual strategy:

Over the years I developed a simple plotting method: start with a character, with a BIG problem. Once you have a character-creation template, you can create a new character in a minute or two.

However, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a readymade plot, as Shakespeare did:

Shakespeare used stories from older books of all sorts for his non-historical plays. He borrowed from Latin and Greek authors as well as adapting stories from elsewhere in Europe.

By the way, regarding Shakespeare “stealing” anything; that’s nonsense. He retold stories. You can do that too.

You can:

In short, you can grab inspiration from many sources, even from your own life.

Try these tips to get inspired, as Shakespeare did.

1. Try a fairy tale retelling: twist it into your own version

Here’s a list of Grimm’s fairy tales. Choose one story, and read it several times.

Think about the story.

What’s its inner meaning? Please do NOT look up morals of these tales. You don’t want anyone else’s ideas, you want your own interpretation, the more twisted the better… Once you have that, you can muse on the characters in the tale, and their situation.

Change the story’s era. Place it in a modern or historical setting, or a completely fantastical setting, your choice.

2. Twist history: put your own interpretation on historical characters

Anne Boleyn’s story has been told and retold. So has Cleopatra’s. And Jack the Ripper’s.

Take anyone from history, and retell their story. Try to put a new twist on their story. For example, over the past decades, Anne Boleyn has been whitewashed. I agree that the poor woman was probably victimized, but what if Anne were as black as she was painted?

3. Rummage through public domain materials to find a nugget you could use

All Jane Austen’s novels are in the public domain. You can create your own Pride & Prejudice retelling. Check Project Gutenberg for public domain materials.

As a rule of thumb, anything published before 1923 is now in the public domain, unless the author’s estate has taken steps to secure copyright. Example: the Burroughs’ estate, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., secured its hold on the Tarzan character.

When you’re using public domain materials, you don’t have to simply retell the story—twist it, as you would a fairy tale retelling.

You can make plotting fiction fun, when you use a starting point

When you start with a fairy tale or other base material, you’ve conquered the blank page; you’re no longer starting from nothing.

Have fun stealing like Shakespeare. 🙂