Saturday, September 8, 2012

I'm not quiet. I'm PLOTTING.


When I was younger and would write stories in notebooks and single-spaced Microsoft Word documents, I always felt that a premise was enough.  Surely an idea for a story (a girl in WWII England rescuing people from bombed-out buildings or the daughter of a laundress in the White House during the Civil War) and a handful of character ideas was enough to base a novel on.  Right? Right?

Uh, kinda right.

Sure, it was enough to base a novel on.  The problem was that I had nothing to build with.  Without plot, my poor stories collapsed and were left for dead before many days had passed. I can't count how many times I set out to write the novel of the century, only to abandon the premise after a week or so and start on something else (which, in its turn, would soon be neglected by its easily-distracted mama).

Since then, I've begun to learn a shocking truth-- namely, that a story really cannot go anywhere with a plot.  Remarkable, no?  Oh, certainly there have been plenty of books that stemmed only from the barest wisp of an idea, but the truly good ones were then built upon that wisp of an idea.  Plots grew from those ideas, and characters from the plots (sometimes vice versa) and thus a story was born.

And no matter how much writing I may want to do, no matter how many elusive dragonfly-ideas flit through my mind when I'm trying to sleep at night, no matter how many characters pop into my brain, I can really do nothing with them unless I know what I want to do with them.

Profound, I know.

In all seriousness, however, this concept has taken me quite a while to grasp.  I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer in general-- I tend to write haphazardly and fecklessly, spinning out whatever flows into my head with all the reckless abandon of a baby with a Magic Marker and a fresh white wall.  And though free-spirit writing has its time and place and is certainly commendable, I'm finding that for me at least, it's really best to have an outline, to know where I'm going.

You wouldn't take a road trip without a road map, now would you?  (Er, that is, a GPS?  I keep forgetting that road maps are obsolete.)

So I'm making a road map for Sky, and it's taking a great deal longer than I'd thought.  (So what if I don't call it a GPS?  I've always been a bit old-fashioned.)  I had an idea for this story that's morphed into something much bigger (and yes, I'll say it, better).  The whole story shifted back 100 years, to begin with, and the Albigensian Crusade wormed its way in.  (I'll wait while you go look that one up.)  I realized overnight the overwhelming power of Actual Research (that is, not just reading Wikipedia articles all afternoon) and the stack of Middle Ages history books on hold for me at the library is... well, it's not allowed to exceed five at a time.  But as soon as I return one, I can get another.

I've been dreaming about this story, thinking about it while brushing my teeth, scribbling down ideas like crazy.  I haven't been doing Beautiful People or writing much dialogue or even writing character studies in my notebook.  Yet my characters are coming alive to me as I'm creating the walls and doorways of their story.  Finding out how each one is going to deal with the problems I'm throwing their way is, for me, even better than deciding if they prefer tea or coffee.  I still plan to do Beautiful People, to save any and all inspirational pictures to my computer, to do character tags and think about how they'd respond to a wacky situation.  But it's their story that makes them who they are.

Man, I sound like a refrigerator magnet again.  I'm getting good at that.  Maybe I should go into the refrigerator magnet business.  Does anyone know how much that kind of a job pays?

At any rate, everything I said in this post could be easily summed up in a picture (worth a thousand words and all that):

12 comments:

Kendra E. Ardnek said...

My early writings were basically rewriting other people's work, cough, cough, so plotting wasn't really an issue.

Anymore, plotting's my favorite part - and I'll plan my series 20-30 books in advance. I don't often write things down, though I ought to more than I do. I like to know where I'm going, but I also like the freedom of not having things set in stone.

Melody said...

Oh come now, my dear. Sometimes one just can't figure out a plot from the beginning. ("One" meaning... me. :P) But there's something alive in one's head and sometimes the story just picks up and can be figured out as it goes along. (Well, for the most part. Except more ideas for the 'future' comes along as you write.)

Sometimes. Not that I've ever experienced. Heh. :P But that's how OAN worked, right? Come on now, don't get all Professional Author on me. :P

Haha. Sorry. Now you may tell me "[Melody], it does not buhcome you to be sahcastic."

Melody said...

Ha. On second thought, my comment was rather stupid in context with your post. I was just thinking out loud, I s'pose. ;)

Miss Melody Muffin said...

Plotting, plotting, plotting!! I tend to be more of a plotting writer anyway (although I have tried seat-of-the-pants) and right now I'm 'mapping out' 4 different stories. Yes, at the same time. It sort of keeps me fresh going back and forth between them. I do try to always remember that while plot maps are essential, there are occasional times they must be pushed aside and the words allowed to just flow.

Just out of curiosity, is there any particular method or style you follow when plotting? I've mixed and matched from a half dozen different methods and added bits from other's writing tips to custom tailor a style for me that is actually still evolving.

And now that I've mixed my metaphors horribly, I'm off to get some hot tea. :) Cheerio!

Jessica said...

Yes us sop writers do get ourselves in muddles...but it's fun - until they die. Yes, plotting necessarily. Plotting is worth a 1000 words, because without one you'll only get 100, :D or something like that! Touche well done - plot on.

Jessica

Miss Dashwood said...

Kendra,
20-30 books in a series?? WOW! That's ambitious! True, I do like to allow some freedom in my writing, so as you said, nothing's set in stone. :D

Melody,
Oh, certainly, there are plenty of times that it can be figured out as it goes along... but in my case, I'm finding that it's much easier (and more motivating) for me to sit down at the beginning and figure out how it's going to end before I begin serious writing.
And that IS how OAN worked, you are correct... but hey, people change and so do their methods. And I'm not going all professional author on you. Melody, it does not buhcome you to be sahcastic... but since you were not being sarcastic and instead only tongue-in-cheek, I shall just laugh. :D
Besides, I AM a professional author. I have penned a novel in conjunction with thee, have I not??? And is it not worthy to be counted with the Perils? ;)

Miss Melody Muffin,
Heh... no, I have no particular style. Right now, for Sky I have a five-page outline document detailing what's to happen in the story, along with another document full of stream-of-consciousness ideas as they come to me. So I'm constantly revising and updating the first document. The story's changed quite a bit since its first idea.
And yes! Flowing is always a must, though a river can't flow unless it has banks to flow between. (Wow. I seriously should start selling magnets. Do you think they'd do well on Etsy?)

Jessica,
Ha, I like that about the 1000 words vs. 100! Very true. ;)

Kendra E. Ardnek said...

Yes, I agree, 20-30 books IS ambitious. Actually, I have no idea how long that particular series will end up being. I just know that I have at least 60 years of the timeline in my head, and I place a book every other year or so.

It will probably end up longer.

I need to put the timeline in a document, though, so I don't forget anything. I tried writing it down on paper, but it was too rigid.

Rachel (Cynthia) Heffington said...

Sounds good. I can't wait to hear all about your research. And for me, too, plotting is a beast. I am definitely fly-by-night when it comes to my plotting. I often don't plot and only have the barest speckle of an outline beyond the premise. Argh. That is why Fly Away Home is undergoing some massive plot-shifts...trying to reconcile in my mind how I'll keep the theme I was hoping to pull along while still going with the new plot. O.o

Miss Jack Lewis Baillot said...

I've had your trouble. Wonderful story ideas, but no plot. I guess it is something every writer has, but still, not much fun sometimes.
I hope this story goes well for you. I'm eager to learn more about it!

Allons-y!

Anonymous said...

Wow - I can't believe that: 20 to 30 books?! Unbelievable!

Anyways, I enjoyed your post, Miss Dashwood. Plotting. It's an interesting and lovely subject! But truthfully, I'm more your seat-of-the-pants writer. I'll plot some, do character interviews, and scribble away, but I am not a strict person in regard to plotting. Maybe that's a bad thing?

Miss Dashwood, you always make me laugh! You have a wonderful sense of humor. But Miss Dashwood, could you please tell me if CreateSpace is very expensive? I am dying to know.

A fellow writer,
Patience

prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com

Miss Dashwood said...

Rachel,
I know, doesn't it make you feel disloyal to the old ideas when the need to shift focus becomes pressing? Definitely does for me. :(

Jack,
Thanks so much! Best wishes to you and your writing too!

Patience,
Hey there! About CreateSpace-- it doesn't cost you a red cent! Isn't that ducky of it? :D It's a print-on-demand company, which means they only print a copy of your book each time someone orders one. So in order to get copies of your book, you do have to pay for them, but only for the printing costs. I'm actually going to send you an email with more details, but I thought I'd just put this up here in case anyone else was wondering too. :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Miss Dashwood, for your kind response! I received your lovely, very helpful email this afternoon. You'll hear from me soon! And I do really appreciate it all! CreateSpace sounds so wonderful. :-)

With gratefulness, a fellow writer,
Patience

prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com