Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The "Yes, but" or "No, and" Method to Creating Plot Twists

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Conflict is important in a story. It's what keeps the reader turning the pages. Some writers struggle with conflict, especially knowing how to escalate it or how to end the conflict with a plot twist.

Some of you may have heard me talking about the fabulous Writing Excuses podcast. If you have never listened to them, I suggest you check it out. They are spec fiction authors, but lots of what they talk about applies to all genres. The archives are pure gold. Seriously. Here is a link to their site: http://www.writingexcuses.com/

A while back, I heard one of the podcasters, Mary Robinette Kowal, talk about the rule of "Yes, but" or "No, and." I thought it was very clever. And since I used this rule the other day, I felt like I should share it with all of you, rather than keep Mary's brilliance all to myself.

First, I'd like to plug Mary's book Shades of Milk and Honey. It's a Jane Austenesque fantasy novel. A very fun and quick read. I just bought the second book in the series, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Mary takes her characters next.

Now back to "Yes, but" or "No, and." Here's how it works. You write your scene. Things are building up to some sort of a climax. Then you'll need to transition to the next scene. You can use "Yes, but" or "No, and" to brainstorm what will happen that takes your character into the next scene, and it should be something that ups the conflict/makes things worse. Here are some examples:

-Your character goes on a date with the girl of his dreams. Will it go well?

Yes, but he then learns that she is moving to a new town, or

No, and she tells all her friends how he tripped on his shoelaces and knocked over their table.


-Your character has been kidnapped. He tries to escape. Will he succeed?

Yes, but he gets lost in the city, unfamiliar with his surroundings, or

No, and he is moved into a solitary jail cell.


-Your character apologizes to the girl he likes for something he did wrong. Will she forgive him?

Yes, but then he goes out and kisses someone else and gets caught, or

No, and she tells her big brother what happened and he beats up your character.


-Your character breaks into someone's house with the intent of downloading secret files from a computer to his flash drive. Does he succeed at breaking in?

Yes, but the files aren't on the computer, or

No, and the person who lives there comes home and catches him in the act.


-Your character sneaks into a country club in hopes of hanging out with the girl he likes. Does he succeed?

Yes, but his brother catches him and insists he sneak him in too or he'll tell their parents, or

No, and his best friend starts dating the girl.


The idea of this exercise is to escalate the problem in one way or another. Give it a try and see how it works for you. Share your thoughts in the comments.

32 comments:

  1. Oooooh, this is perfect! I've been trying to up the ante for a while now. Lets see what this helps me come up with! :)

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  2. Hehe, this is wonderful! Let's give it a try:

    My MC has a big conflict with her mother. Will they solve there problems?
    - Yes, but they still don't like each other that much and in a while, things are happening again.
    - No, and the mom of my MC decides she doesn't want to be the mother of the MC anymore.

    My MC has been asked to make a big choice. Will she say yes?
    - Yes, but then she will lose a friend she really needs and she will be lonely then.
    - No, and she rejects the last request of her dead best friend.

    I will do this more often, it works really good! Thank you so much!

    arendedewit.blogspot.com

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  3. Wow this is a cool idea! I've always struggled with ways to come up with good plot twists but this puts it so simply! Thanks, Jill!

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  4. Is the Writing Excuses website Christian?

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    1. No, but it's clean. He (Brandon Sanderson) once mentioned that he tries to keep a G or PG rating.

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  5. This makes so much sense! Having the scenes lad into each other and everything ... I'm so happy. I'd kind of been doing this already, but this is a really nice, clear way to put it. Thanks so much for the post, Jill!

    I'll have to check out their podcasts sometime.

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  6. This is really helpful! You and Mrs. Morrill have been hitting the nail on the head with your posts this week (for me, that is). Thank you!

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  7. Wonderful! I definitely need to add some of this to my story...

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  8. Ugh. I think it ate my comment or something...it was a nice long one, too. -_- I'm not sure what's up with me and comments these days. Anyway! VERY helpful post, Ms. Williamson! I'd heard of this before but forgot about it. Now I'll definitely use it! I found a few instances in my plot where I'd actually done this already. Yay! I've been really excited about my story lately, so I can't wait for the writing retreat. :)

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    1. We're looking forward to it too, Amanda!

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  9. Awesome awesome. Thanks, Mrs. Williamson :)

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  10. Mrs. Williamson:
    My daughter is interested in participating in your online retreat but I am worried that her email address will be available to anyone. I would like to encourage her interest in writing as she does not do well in ther areas, but I do not want her to be taken advantage of. Also, is a Yahoo account required to participate?
    Thank you in advance and may God bless,
    Leigh Anne

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    1. Hope you don't mind me jumping in to answer, Leigh Anne. I responded to another concerned parent yesterday, so I thought I was just copy and paste my reply to her for you as well:

      We'll post all the details on the blog soon, but the writing retreat will take place via Yahoo Groups. I completely understand concerns about not wanting to expose yourself or your children to possible predators. I have to approve every member who asks to join the list, and I have the power to boot people should someone somehow sneak in. I take that job very seriously and will guard the list closely. We won't allow adult writers to join, unless they are adults Jill and I know personally who have a heart for teen writers, like our friend writer/editor Roseanna M. White.

      Also, group emails will get sent to the group email address. Which will be something like "GoTeenWriters@yahoo.groups." Your personal email address will only show up if you choose to email the group or if you respond to something.

      Again, there'll be more details coming, but I hope this at least sheds light on our desire to protect the writers who come to the retreat.

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    2. Thanks for answering that, Steph!

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    3. Thank you Mrs. Morrill. Chloe is very excited.

      God bless

      Leigh Anne

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  11. Great technique for coming up with problems for a hero. I especially like the "yes, but" to help figure out ways to get a step closer to the story goal but make it seem almost not worth it. Thanks for sharing the brilliance.

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  12. Thank you for blogging on this! I've been stuck as to how to make the chapter I'm working on more interesting, and I might use this trick with it! Thanks so much.

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  13. This is so cool! Definitely going to try this. And the last example was basically the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Did you do that on purpose?

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  14. This is awesome, I don't know why I didn't think of this before. Thanks!

    (MJ)

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  15. That's such a cool idea. It's an awesome way to keep the plot twisting and makes the plot envisioning a little simpler. :) I love it and plan on using this technique. Thank you!!

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    1. Okay, so update. I totally used this technique on my story and I LOVE IT! I have a notebook that is for writing notes and this is where the Yes but No and goes. :) This will be something I do for the rest of my writing career. :)

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  16. This is one of the best ideas ever!!!! definitely WILL use!! thx so much Mrs. Williamson!


    abrielle lindsay
    http://thebooksbooksbookblog.blogspot.com/

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  17. Oh... me likey! I'll definitely have to try this out! Super intriguing! This might actually help me write some scenes I'm terrified of screwing up and making really dull... though I probably already have haha.

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