Saturday, September 6, 2008

Plotting Away

In my next life I'd like to come back as a supervillian, that way when I post on my blog that I am plotting it can be followed by a hearty "Mwah, ha, HA!" Unfortunately, I am just a lowly writer trying to put the pieces of another book together and so when I say I am plotting it is usually only followed by a pathetic sigh, or if I am feeling especially sorry for myself, perhaps a whiny little, "eeennnghhh."

Why does plotting make me whine and sigh? Because for me it is the part of writing that is just not much fun. And by fun, I mean - easy. Coming up with characters is fun (and easy). Finding that first inciting incident is fun (and not as easy, but I don't break a sweat). Right there I've got the first twenty pages of a novel, but without plot it ends right there. This is why I have the beginning of several novels in notebooks and on the hard drive of my computer going all the way back to high school.

So starting novels is easy, but finishing them is hard - I know this because I have done it once. And having done it I can say, that like most things that are not easy (and not always fun) it was a bazillion times more satisfying writing the words "the end" instead of "once upon a time." Now having done it once, I want to do it again and again and again. Only problem is that I need a plot to get me there.

I actually managed to get 60 pages into my current WIP by just muscling my way through and having no clear idea of where I was going and only a hazy sense of my final destination. This meant I spent a lot of time stopping and staring at my computer screen wondering where to go next. It wasn't exactly time efficient. Plus I kept having all these questions pop-up that I didn't have answers to, and I kept telling the questions I would get to them later, although I didn't even know what came later.

It became clear that I needed a better idea of where my story was going, what is was about, and maybe have the ability to answer all those questions I was raising. Unfortunately, I wasn't exactly sure how to go about this. I thought that having written one complete novel, I would just write the next one in the same way (you can read more about that here.) Since that didn't seem to be working out I turned to my good old friend Google to see if it could help me out.

You see I was pretty certain that there was a trick that perhaps not everbody knew, but certainly a few people must know it and, of course, one of those people must have posted it on the internet somewhere. Believing all this I was determined to find that elusive secret. In looking I came across some good stuff.

This was pretty good and she definitely got the emotional states part right.
This snowflake method thing didn't really work for me, but it raised some good questions and got me thinking in the right direction.
And I was pretty certain when I found Holly Lisle's website that I had hit paydirt. It was extensive and I was certain it had the answer I was looking for. I even found this and went through all the exercises at the end of which... I still did not have a plot.

That's when I did the unthinkable - I turned away from the computer and instead flipped open a big fat notebook (that I just happen to own for this express purpose) to an empty page and decided to first address all those questions I had dug up while writing my first sixty pages. There were a lot of them - I filled about two pages. Then as I struggled to answer them something funny happened. I had to look deeper into who my characters were and I had to come up with things to happen in the novel to answer the questions and suddenly my characters were motivated and instead of acting like a bunch of kids cooped up inside on a rainy day whining that there was nothing to do - they were totally entertaining themselves. My characters were plotting.

Now this is the part where I should write, "And after that it was easy. The plot flowed like water and I never again spent a night tossing and turning instead of sleeping as I was tortured by the idea that I might never complete a novel again." Except it didn't go that way and I will probably always be a person who is part of Ambien's target demographic (although I haven't yet used any prescription sleep aids and have no intention of doing so anytime in the near future.).

What did happen is I sat back down at the computer and read through the sixty pages I had so far, just to remind myself of where I had been and to decide how much I could keep. Having answered some of those pesky questions I had to make some changes, but most of it was working out all right. Then I could avoid it no longer. I opened a new word doc and made a rough estimate of how many chapters I would need based on the chapter lengths of what I had already written and I started plotting.

It was not fun. It was not easy. And I am only half done. However, when it's over I will have a very rough (like caveman drawings of roughness) map of where my story goes, and most importantly I will know exactly where to place the words "the end" when I get to them once again. And I will get to them. Oh, yeah, watch "the end", cause I'm coming for you.


  1. I am a plotter, too. :)

    Lately, I've been dictating my notes for the plot of my next book. I've come up with some solid stuff that way, but I still have some work to do, and I'm still not sure about the climax which is-- y'know-- anticlimactic.

    My goal (since I have great buddies who do NaNoWriMo every year) is to get my plotting squared away and all my story questions answered before November. Then I shall hit it hard with the writing. ;)

  2. What a great post, Kate. And Heather your comment is inspiring too. I don't plot. Sometimes I feel like I should, but every time I do, nothing comes. So I understand your pain. It is not easy. At all.

  3. Trade ya Kate!

    I LOVE plotting, although a lot of my plotting comes from research (I'll come up with the main plot and then quite a few subplots). It's revising that I HATE!

    I must admit though, that I sarted my first novel years ago, and got stuck at about chapter 17.

    That's when I took a class that Mel Odom (he's published over 100 books) taught. He informed me that I had no plot...THE NERVE!

    OF COURSE I HAD A PLOT, didn't I?

    Uh, NO, I most certainly didn't.

    So back I went, came up with a loose plot, rewrote the first dozen or so chapters, and off I went, finding my little subplots as I went.

    That being said...wanna trade?