Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Plot and plot, what is plot? *

Current Project: The Lazarus Equation (working title)
Status: Opening scenes

This month's suggested blog topic is uncannily appropriate for me to talk about right now. I'm still at that point in my writing where I'm searching for the right balance of plotting vs. "writing by the seat of my pants" or what some people refer to as being a "pantser". (I prefer to call it writing without a net)

If you had asked me whether I was a plotter or a pantser when I first starting writing with the goal of publication, I would have come down squarely on the side of being a plotter. I used to see that question as black or white, or as opposite sides of the same coin. Either one was a plotter or one was a pantser and that was that.

And then I found that the more I plotted a story, the less likely I was to want to actually, you know, write it. So I thought, well, I must be a pantser and set about jumping into story after story without any idea where they were going and, you guessed it, completely failing to finish any of them.

Now I tend to view the writing process as a spectrum with being a plotter at one end and a pantser at the other. I'm learning that I fall somewhere on that spectrum, with a mix of both approaches combining into a process that's uniquely my own. I just have to figure out where on the spectrum I'm happiest.

I know, for instance, that I'm afraid of getting bored if I've plotted out what's going to happen too far in advance of writing. However, I do want to know what's coming a few scenes ahead of where I'm at so that I can keep the momentum going. One tricky part comes in knowing how far ahead is too far.

I also like to know the ultimate goal and major turning points in the story. But not in too much detail. A lot of people say they can write an outline and still feel able to deviate from it. Not me. Oh, no. That would be too easy. No, when I put plot information on paper I tend to be stuck with it. I have to make my turning points and story goals sufficiently vague so that I can change them easily if needed without causing me grief, but with enough detail that I can write towards them. That's the other tricky part--how vague is vague enough without being too vague?

Well, I know my head hurts now--how about you?

Those tricky parts? They're what I'm still figuring out.

So, tell me about your process. It's the age old question for writers: Are you a plotter or a pantser or are you somewhere in between? Did figuring it out come easily to you, or did you struggle to find your process?

* The title of this post is a totally gratuitous and unrelated reference to "Spock's Brain," generally agreed to be one of if not the worst Star Trek (the original series) episode ever, in which the following immortal line is uttered, "Brain and brain, what is brain?"


Sarah Raplee said...

Deb, I love your working title. :) And your Star Trek reference.

In answer to your question, I'm a little left of center on the plotter side. I do a fair amount of what I call Pre-writing - Research, character evolution, major turning points, etc. - BEFORE I begin the first draft. (Plotter)

But I write from turning point to turning point, rather than do a complete outline. (Pantser)

After the first draft, I storyboard what I've got and decide what needs to stay, go, move, or change.(Plotter)

I'm still working out my process. Like, show my critique partners the Second Draft stuff, not the First, in order to keep my Editor in hibernation until the first draft is done.

You're right in that each of us needs to develop a unique writing process that works for us.

Paty Jager said...

Okay it just ate my big long reply. Grr....

Paty Jager said...

Deb, nice post. The more you write you'll find a process that works for you.

Okay since I wrote this one I"m giving you a bullet list.

1- Stew and Brew the characters and story.
2- write a dossier on the characters- research
3- do a conflict chart
4- know my turning points and end
5 start writing
6- send chapters to CPs
7- when finish first draft use CPs suggestions and rework the story and clean it up.

after a while your system starts to evolve.

Genene Valleau said...

Great title for your work-in-progress!

A writer's process has always been interesting for me. Perhaps because I once thought if I had a process, the writing would come easy.

Well, I do have a process--kind of--and sometimes the writing does come easy, and other times I make it difficult. What I've discovered is that my "process" for each book varies, so the writing itself is the journey--or the process.

I consider myself a detailed plotter though, like life, stories come up with surprises that demand I be flexible. So plotting is my road map, but I'm always open to interesting trips down side roads as long as they lead me to my ultimate destination. :)

But I'll outline my general steps:
--The "idea" can come from anywhere. Seeing people in a deserted parking lot shifting "something" from the trunk of one car to another. Experiencing something that irritates my sense of justice, and writing about it to have the outcome I want. An unusual word or expression on someone's face, etc., etc.
--Jot down the idea and all the related thoughts that occur with it.
--Start asking "what if?"
--Depending on where I am on deadlines, either tuck this idea into my files to consider later or jump into the story.
--Fill out "ten steps to happily-ever-after" character arc and plot arc sheets to show how characters grow and how plot develops from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.
--Pictures for the start of storyboards that give me a visual of characters, things that are important to them, their surroundings, etc.
--Detailed scene sheets for enough scenes to make the book the length I want it to be.

(Throughout the above "process" I write scenes or snippets of story as they come to me.)

--The bulk of the writing, fleshing out scenes, discovering surprises that spin the story in a different direction or uncover a secret the character has.
--Usually at about three-quarters of the way through a story, I go back and replot to incorporate any surprises the writing has brought and make sure I haven't dropped any story threads or forgotten to wrap up subplots.
--Edits: I do several "passes" through a story, digging deeper into emotions or motivation, adding personal possessions or quirks that make a character unique and more human, and also to make sure I don't drop any story threads. Usually catch any spelling, verb tense or grammar errors at this point.
--When the story is close to being final, I send it to my critique partners. While they are critiquing, I do another sweep through for more detailed, nitpicky edits, which usually includes reading the entire story out loud.
--Incorporate any suggestions from critique partners, give one final polish and off to editor.

Sheesh! A more complex process than I thought. But gave me lots of ideas for my blog post next week.

Deb, have fun with discovering your writing process. You'll get there!

Christine Young said...

Love your title!