Plotting with Ripples and Waves

A recent post from Alicia Rasley at Edittorrent got me thinking about a theory I devised to explain  the impact of change in my life.

I call it The Ripple Effect.

The Little Version

Visualize a pebble dropped in still water. Plip. Ripples radiate out from the strike zone. Eventually the ripples dissipate and the water smooths out.

Small change, small impact.

The Big Version

Visualize a big granite boulder dropped in still water. SPLOOSH! A coronet rises around the strike zone. Big waves roll over the water’s surface. A long time goes by before the water settles.

Big change, big impact.

The Messy Version

Visualize both the pebble and the boulder dropped into the water at the same time. Plip. SPLOOSH! Ripples and waves spread in all directions. Crests and troughs are amplified and diminished.

That’s real life. Sigh.

The Story Version

How useful is my Ripple Effect theory?

For me, the natural extension of observing and thinking is writing. So I use my theory to plot stories. Here’s how.

The initial conflict in a book is the first pebble thrown in the still waters of a character’s ordinary life. It’s not necessarily a huge conflict, but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Before the story waters have stilled, toss in a stone. What is the interplay of this slightly larger conflict with the first conflict? How does it cross and alter the first conflict?

Before the story waters have stilled, toss in more pebbles and larger stones.

Watch for unexpected collisions in the intersection of waves and ripples, dips and troughs. Watch how the crest of a wave is increased by a ripple. Watch how the dip of a ripple diminishes the crest of wave.

Surprise your characters and your reader, and maybe yourself, with unusual results of  the intersecting conflicts–the Ripple Effect.

Let the story waters still. Just a bit. Let your reader catch her breath.

In goes the boulder.


Chaos. Conflict. Bwahahaha!

Then comes a rainstorm. Hundreds of thousands of drops fall. All the waves and ripples are beaten down. Conflicts are resolved. Order and peace return. The story waters return to a smooth glassy surface.

So what do you think? Does The Ripple Effect appeal to you?

© Joan Leacott 2012x-posted at Voices from the Heart

4 Comments on “Plotting with Ripples and Waves

  1. Joan, I use this theory, too! In theory, that is. When I get stuck on a plot point, I forget my tools and panic. For the record, the technique is not working so well.

    Your post has me thinking, I need to put all these kick-starter tidbits in one document, print, frame, and set on my desk. Or dangle in front of my eyeballs.


    • Yeah, Sherry, some techniques work better for some people. A poster will definitely help when panic sets in. Staples will print it for a reasonable price. Thanks, for dropping by.