Low hanging fruit

Hi, Story Empire fans, Craig here again. I’m having a problem in my own writing, and I’m going to use today’s post to talk about it. I’m aware of the issue, and writing it out may actually help me. This is related to the all important daydreaming phase of writing.

You know I love a good analogy, and I’m going to relate the problem to a fruit tree. I’m looking for some choice fruit here. I’ve invited Lisa Burton, my personal assistant to help me out today. First slide please, Lisa.Lisa BurtonLisa is indicating the low hanging fruit on the tree. The low hanging fruit is the easiest to reach. It will fill you up, but leaves something to be desired. In the story world, this is where you find the princesses, orphans, evil secret twins, and chosen ones. Plots might be saving the princess, stoping a great evil that just doesn’t make much sense, or avenging a father.

Low hanging fruit will fill you up, and I’ve written these kind of stories myself. I’m pretty sure we all have. There are some good stories here, but readers have gone through them before. I try to resist the low hanging fruit in favor of something else.

Next slide, Lisa.

Lisa BurtonLisa is indicating the middle of the tree here. You have to reach a bit higher, and work a bit harder to get this fruit. In tree terms, this fruit gets a bit more sunshine, is usually prettier, and sweeter.

In story terms, maybe your character is one of the city watch. He has the training, but is kind of out of his element when he has to act alone. Maybe you have a missionary or Red Cross worker who has to change philosophy and become more militaristic to bring the story to a satisfying end.

As far as plots go, this is where the standard plots get turned on their heads. Shrek and Fiona get to live as ogres in their happily ever after. No castles and ball gowns required. This is where your bad guys become the main characters, like in some popular mafia type stories. They aren’t good people, but somehow the author makes you care anyway.

Okay, Lisa, let’s have it.

Lisa BurtonAh, the top tier. This is where the prettiest and sweetest fruit grows. As an author, we all want to be here, but it requires some serious effort to deliver this gourmet treat.

Top tier characters have likely never had their story told. Maybe she is the officer in charge of internal communications on a starship. How can those internal communications change the outcome of some major external catastrophe?

Plots involve things we just haven’t seen before, or that put a unique twist on something. Readers will love us if we can deliver all of this. This is where new genres are born.

My problem comes up occasionally. I get my stories in different ways. Right now, I’m holding some cool characters, and some good vignettes. I need a top notch plot to let them all shine.

My regular cure is more, and better quality, daydreaming. What’s your cure? No seriously, should I burn some prayers to Sauron or something? Maybe send flower’s to Poe’s grave?

The truth is most of our stories are a combination of things from the branches. I’m okay with a story that collects all levels. Right now, I need a better plot than anything I’ve got so far. I have characters, an interesting environment, a fun twist to one of the characters. I only need a driving force to assemble it all into a satisfying story.

What do you guys do to find the missing pieces? I really dislike test chapters, but that may be my next step.

36 thoughts on “Low hanging fruit

  1. Pingback: Curated Writing Content | Story Empire

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  3. I always start my books with characters, then set around to dreaming up the plot. Because I’m a panster, plot is usually extremely sketchy and never fully finished. Then I start writing and things happen. My current book (with my editor right now) took me completely by surprise due to several developments and a few characters that occurred/appeared as I wrote. One of these days I may actually learn to plot. In the meantime, well….my system works for me (although I know I drive my critique partner batty, LOL).

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    • I agree with that approach. It’s happened a few times to me. It kind of looks like I’m writing some test chapters for this one to see what clicks. This may be one where I use bookend outlines and just let the middle fly.


  4. Sauron cares not for the ashes of your prayers, and while Poe might enjoy watching your flowers rot before his headstone, his soul resides too deep in the abyss to see the decay. In all seriousness, though, here’s something one of my professors suggested. Sketch out that low-hanging plot that jumped into your brain. Then, ask yourself, okay, what could I throw into this that would make things way worse for all of the characters involved. Yeah, that’s better, but now brainstorm something else that would be even worse than that! After you’ve gone through and thought up five or ten even worse things, you’ll be closer to the top of the tree.

    On a slightly different topic, the visual graphic for your secretary is sort of gross. Especially in the context of current events. That observation might bring down a firestorm of “toughen up, butterfly” reactions, but I thought I’d be honest. The cartoon made my skin crawl.

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  5. I brought an apple to class today. I can see what you mean when you have a rich character line up and a plot that needs work. I generally let the characters go at it on a small premise and try to build to a big one. If you call that a test chapter maybe that will be the best way.

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  6. I usually find the missing pieces while researching something else entirely. Although, if I’m working out a plot issue or missing that special something, I’ll talk it over with my husband. Saying it aloud seems to do the trick, even if I’m not sure what it is I’m missing. You know how sometimes you read your work and there’s that missing oomph, for lack of a better word? That’s what you’re referring to, right? Because I know you plan your novels in advance like I do.

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  7. I’m sorry to say (and please, no one throw anything at me) I don’t get writer’s block and I don’t struggle for story ideas. I have days where my outline is clear and I know what needs to be done, but I don’t have the will (or energy) to make it happen. But I know what needs to happen. I outline, so I don’t write myself into corners, and my idea file is so full, I’ll never get to it all. I just need to decide which project I’m most passionate about next.

    That said, inspiration truly is everywhere. One of my favorite sources is eavesdropping in public. I bet the folks drinking for a t-shirt at Old Chicago had some interesting conversations that could inspire a story. Or at least an interesting character.

    If you’re an outliner, try free writing. And if you’re a pantser, try any kind of outline or mindmap. Keep asking “what if…” to see if that gives you what you need. You’re one of the most creative people I know, Craig. I have no doubt you’ll be reaching the treetops soon.

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  8. I love this analogy, Craig! If my characters go quiet on me, instead of hounding me night and day (lols), the internet and news, etc., become my best friends for inspiration and new twists. 🙂

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  9. Fruit salad seems to be the more common path. Maybe that’s for the best because I can see a lot of ‘old tale with a new twist’ stories out there. People seem to be attracted to familiarity and looking for the twist now. For your question, I either daydream during the planning stage or just see what happens when I start writing. Twists seem to come up at the character level without me trying.

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      • Good to hear. I’ve found that some of the best and least expected twists are at the character level. People spend more time looking for the big story twist because those are easier to spot and more common in movies. I blame M. Knight for that.


  10. Good post, Craig and I love the analogy. I tend to agree with another commenter – search the net or read the news. Truth is often stranger than fiction and often good ideas come from real life stories (changed to protect the innocent, of course.) 🙂 I’m toying with an idea based on a true story I read a year ago in Reader Digest. Thinking of ways I could change the story a bit while having the same amount of intrigue.

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    • That can help, and I have my push feeds (Which have been pretty weak lately). I’m not looking for the news bit or vignette, more of an overarching plot. I’m already afraid it’s a “save the princess” since there is a woman who needs saved. It won’t come across that way, and that’s a side story. Maybe I could make it more about saving the bad guy’s family, and a second chance for them. Huh, maybe I just need someone to bounce ideas off of.


  11. When I am confronted with a similar dilemma, I have a chat with the characters involved. They usually love to give me their opinions! Then after listening to them, other ideas creep in. Most of the time ‘What if’ is a good friend of mine, I just need to track him down sometimes…

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