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Writing tips: Plot finder

Updated Thursday 21st December 2006

Advice on getting ideas for a plot, part of the BBC/OU's Writing Lab

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Whether you intend writing fiction or plays, you will almost certainly need a plot. If you find yourself stuck for new ideas, try this fun task. It will get you writing …and may even provide you with the inspiration for a real story or play.

  • Down the left hand side of a sheet of A4 list the numbers 0 to 9.
  • Across the top of the page write four column headings – Character, Location, Object and Motive.
  • Ask a friend to give you a list of ten types of people or ten occupations (for example sailor, beach photographer, housewife). Under the Character column, write them down against the numbers 0 to 9 (the order is irrelevant).
  • Ask a different friend for ten locations. These can be specific (Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, for example) or very general (a hairdressing salon, a refugee camp). List these under the Location column against the numbers 0 to 9.
  • Now ask a third friend to name ten different things – such as a teddy bear, a signed photo of Cliff Richard, a football etc. List these under Object.
  • Complete the fourth column yourself, using the following motives: Love, Money, Power, Survival, Revenge, Glory and Self-integrity (a sort of psychological survival). There are only seven here, and you need ten, so intersperse these seven with three ‘Unknown’s –unless you can think of more than the seven motives listed here.
  • Lastly, ask several people to provide you with four-digit numbers, anything from 0000 to 9999.

Each four-digit number will now provide you with the bare bones of a plot. The number 4057, for example, will give you Character number 4 in Location number 0 with Object number 5, and the plot will be driven by Motive number 7. Now try to write a short story or a play scenario using these four elements – there are literally thousands to choose from. The plot can be as wild and wacky as you want it to be – the main aim is to get you writing, and to stimulate your imagination – but, who knows, you may turn up something that really gets your creative juices flowing.

You can also download these tips and tasks in PDF format: 'Plot finder' PDF file

Download all the tips and tasks: Get Writing zipped file (1.6 MB)





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