Building a Sand Castle, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Through my years at this writing thing, I've read and heard many creative techniques for plotting. Think of a plot like a skeleton (the bones of your story), where every element has a purpose and is connected. Or, imagine an old-fashioned paper chain on a Christmas tree where each circle is a plot turn that's linked to the previous and the next ones. I like both of those.

But perhaps my personal favorite is a sand castle analogy. You have an idea of your story -- or your castle -- when you start out, and then each shovel, each bucket, each pat of sand and drizzle of water, shapes and reveals until it's whole, completed, a work of art where nothing existed before. That to me is the essence of building a plot -- bits and pieces that together, create a structure.

I remember watching my kids during beach vacations constructing sand castles. Their diligence and patience, how they paid attention to the initial plan -- exactly where each bucket should be turned over to create the ultimate castle. But what I thought was most intriguing was how the castles changed as each of my children added their own touches. One wanted super high towers. Another thought there had to be not just one moat, but two (in case of multiple invasions). The third always insisted on decorating with seashells. Did the castles turn out as originally envisioned? Probably not. But they were always beautiful.

And that's the best advice I can share when it comes to plot techniques. Have an idea of what your story is when you start writing, but allow yourself the creative freedom to shape it as it unfolds.

Your characters may do something you didn't plan for, or an unexpected event can suddenly throw everything off balance. Keep going, keep building. Put your plan aside when you need to. Your subconscious is at work, sifting through grains of sand.

The story may not turn out exactly the way you envisioned from the outset, but what you discover along the way can lead you to beautiful towers and moats and seashells.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels, from Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House. Her fifth novel, HELLO FROM RENN LAKE, debuts May 26 from Penguin Random House. More at


  1. What a lovely metaphor! And this also reminds us that writing - including plotting - should be FUN. Our work has a lot in common with play.


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