Fishing for Plots #Plotting #StoryEmpire #WIPs

Hi, SEers! It’s Mae Day on Story Empire, and I’m here to talk plotting—and fishing. 

Early in our marriage, my husband introduced me to flounder fishing. That attachment eventually evolved into crabbing, clamming, and a long stretch of boat ownership, but in the beginning, it was all about catching the coveted flounder.

I quickly learned there were several types of fish and sea critters attracted by the bait I dangled in the water and not all were desirable. Kind of like plots.  Sound crazy? Let me put it in perspective:


This is a Sea Robin
Photo courtesy of Versageek via Wikimedia Commons

When you’re fishing for flounder, just about everything else falls into the category of “junk fish.” The most common junk fish we’d hook were sea robins. These guys will never win a beauty contest. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the gent on the left.

Sea robins look like a leftover from the Paleozoic Era, They have legs, spines that inject poison, and wing-like fins. They also croak like a frog and will complain loudly when caught.

Despite that bizarre appearance, I always thought they were intriguing. They have pretty blue eyes—an opinion not shared by my husband.

Junk plots are much the same. Pull one from your writer’s hat and you’ll quickly realize no matter how you tweak it, you can’t make it work. It might have some redeeming value (like the sea robin’s pretty blue eyes) but, in the end, all you can do is toss it back into the plot bin and fish for another.

You’d be surprised how many hard shells go after a fishing line. In the beginning, we considered them a nuisance (they make nasty work of your bait). Then we realized we could steam them and have stuffed flounder!  After that, any (legal) hard shell that wandered onto our lines was fair game. It wasn’t long before we were baiting and setting crab pots, collecting them in earnest.close up of a bunch of Maryland blue crabs

Hard shell crabs are the plots that start out looking hopeless, but with polish and attention turn into gems. It takes some work to get them to that point, but when you do, they’re golden!

These guys rarely got snagged in the bay. When they did, thankfully they were small. My husband once caught one about eighteen inches long. At that size, they’re utterly bewitching, gleaming tin-foil bright in the sun. 

You know this plot, right? The one that beguiles you with possibility. You’re enraptured by it, treating it like a prized jewel. Until you realize it can’t be manipulated to fit your needs. It blinds you with its beauty, but once you return to writer terra-firma, it becomes fool’s gold. Back into the plot bin it goes.

There was always a lot of excitement when we hooked a flounder. It’s why we’d spend 5-6 hours trolling the bay, burning in the sun, maneuvering through channels, and getting swamped in bigger wake.Whole flounder fish with rosemary and onions on dark stone, onions made to look like air bubbles rising to water surface, rosemary like fronds of seaweed

Flounder is the ideal writer’s plot. Perfection. Oh, you might have to filet it, to make it work the way you want, but you know you’ve got a winner as soon as you hook it. It takes time and patience hooking a flounder, just as it takes time and patience reeling in the ideal plot.

I haven’t been flounder fishing in many years, but I remember those times with extreme fondness. My husband’s mother eventually bought a place at the beach, and DH and I spent a couple of decades going down most every weekend during the summer. Twenty years of boating results in a lot of fishing, and a lot of plots!

I dreamed up many stories during those decades at the beach, and I still take a notepad with me whenever we visit—usually once a year. My fishing days are behind me, but my plotting days are endless. Here’s hoping when you go “fishing for plots” you net more flounder than sea robins!

How do you think my fishing/plot comparison stacks up? Are your plots always flounder-proof? When you encounter a sea robin or sand shark are you easily lead astray? How do you deal with plots that just aren’t working—do you toss them back and fish for more? Let’s chat about it.

Ready, set, go!

Bio box for author, Mae Clair

54 thoughts on “Fishing for Plots #Plotting #StoryEmpire #WIPs

  1. Excellent analogy, Mae! Sorry I’m late to the party, but I’ve really been dragging this past few days. I’m super glad I didn’t delete this as I was culling through the build-up in my inbox. I was raised fishing, and for some years, we would make a family outing every Saturday night to fish off the Gandy Bridge in the Tampa area. For us, the junk fish were sailcats. While freshwater catfish are delicious, salt water catfish are not considered good eating, unless you are very, very hungry. And sailcats (so called because of the high dorsal fin) were hated by fishermen. Back then, most would kill them, though I’d like to think that practice has stopped and that now they toss them back as they should. Catfish do have a job to do. So I’m thinking of a plot line that most would want to throw away or kill outright, but that might need be salvaged if it has a job to do. Maybe sailcats rank somewhere between junk fish and sand sharks. At any rate, I loved this post, and am sharing! Better late than never. (I made that up, you know. No, really. I did. Sort of. Okay, not at all, but it works for my purpose here. 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved your fishing story, Marcia. We always tossed freshwater cats back. I admit I was unfamiliar with the term sailcats, but I loved learning about them, and I think your idea of how they would relate to plot lines is a good one. There is always room for a plot line that appears as junk but can be salvaged with work. Im so glad you stopped by to share your fishing experience, and your plot ideas. Happy writing and happy fishing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lots of people think catfish in general are dirty, but freshwater catfish have wonderfully sweet, white “meat” that is as good as any fish I’ve ever eaten. Honest. 😀 Sailcats could be a southern species of salt water catfish, too. I admit, I don’t know. (OMG. A nature question I have researched. Must. Find. Info. 😀 ) Glad you enjoyed my comments. This was just a fun post, and brought back some good family memories. 🙂 ❤ Haven’t gone fishing in many years, I’m afraid, but I imagine I did enough of it growing up to last me the rest of my life. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m the same way with fishing, Marcia. I did so much of it in my younger years, I think I’m good the rest of my life, LOL.

        I’ve had catfish before but didn’t really care for it. I think it was the way it was prepared….blackened. I’m not a fan of anything blackened for the most part. These days I get all of my seafood from a supermarket, restaurant, or a great place in Maine that does mail order 🙂

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  2. I used to fish a lot growing up, so I could really relate to plots and catching fish. Very true some plots we have to throw back. Now, I’m hungry for crab…lol.

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  3. Fishing never was a big thing for me, although my brother-in-law dotes on it. We hired a narrow boat the other year to do the canals and all he did was sit on the towpath with a rod. We couldn’t get him to move! One aspect of plot-seeking to me has a strong connection to fly fishing. Standing in mid-stream, or sitting close to the running current of humanity as it passes you by is a pastime rich with pickings for characters and situations you wouldn’t otherwise see – would not see, for example, if you were stuck in the house in ‘voluntary isolation’. Gawd bless ya, COVID-19, you’re killing off my subject matter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Frederick! Sounds like your brother-in-law is a dyed-in-the-wool fisherman. In the later years of my fishing span, I think I did more writing in notebooks than I did actual fishing.
      I’ve never tried fly fishing but I love your plot comparison.
      As for Covid-19, stay safe over there. The U.S, is definitely starting to feel the impact and we have restrictions in place. What a crazy world it’s becoming!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope it calms down soon, although I fear it will get worse instead of better. Stores over here are wiped out of all paper products (TP, paper towels, Kleenex, napkins, etc., and any type of disinfectant related product). They’re going to start limiting purchases when they restock, and my local store as set up a special hour for shoppers 60 and over. I hope you are staying healthy!

        Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! Yeah, DH was not enamored of Sea Robins. Between their blue eyes and the way croak like a frog, I always thought they were a fun catch—although getting them off the hook and back in the water could be difficult with those spine fins!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Jan. May we all have on flounder-type plots!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved your fishing analogy, Mae. As an old beach dweller, I found a way to concentrate on plot points. I would take my pole and equipment down to the water. I would set up a chair and then cast into the surf. I would put the pole in a holder and then grab my laptop. I could write for hours undisturbed since I never caught anything. Maybe if I bated the hook I would have been more successful at fishing.

    i never

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I used to write down every idea I got to see if I could use it later. But I ended up with some miserable plots that I wrestled into a story, and they were nothing to brag about. Now, I only write down a few ideas that seem solid and I ignore them until they start growing in my mind and showing me some decent plot points before I pay attention to them. It’s saved me a lot of time and effort. This was a great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Judi!
      I have old notebooks filled with bare-bones plot ideas, most of which are really junk. I’d like to develop a system like yours, where I take the ones with some promise, and plant them somewhere that they can grow (and I just went from sea to land, LOL).
      BTW, wishing you a happy early release day for tomorrow and your new Jazzi novel. I am 42% through my current read, with The Body in the Apartment up next! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love it, Mae. I have tiered system. Decent ideas go into a notes app. Those that mesmerize me get a partial storyboard. So I guess I’m throwing my fish into the live well. I have quite a few plots tucked away. Sometimes I’ll look at them and add an index card or sticky note. They may eventually shape up into something useable.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I love the analogy! I wish all my plots were flounder, but sadly some are like sea junk. That sea robin reminds me of what we call mud cats around here. They’re aren’t good to eat, but invariably the one you’ll snag most often when fishing in fresh water ponds. Handling one is tricky because they have these sharp fins that hurt!

    Great post today!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: Fishing for Plots #Plotting #StoryEmpire #WIPs | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

    • Me, too, Priscilla. I spent A LOT of time with a particularly beguiling plot for NaNo, only to realize it was a junk fish. I still hope to salvage some of it in the future. That plot definitely lead me astray from my “flounder.” 🙂


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