Monday, February 1, 2010

Building a Plot

I've spent the last week and a half plotting. And I've discovered something: I actually like it.

Up until now, I've been a pantser. I'll have a general idea that I want to write about, I'll open up a blank document and start writing by the seat of my pants. Once I got to know the main character I might plot out the next chapter or two, maybe go back and rewrite the opening. But plot out the whole story? Not a chance.

So when the second assignment for my class was to come up with an outline, I panicked. I wasn't sure if I could plan that far ahead. I didn't know my characters well enough. How would I do all the research in such a short amount of time?

It was interesting to see how other people approached the assignment. Some wrote a beginning, a middle and an end. Some wrote a line or two for each chapter. One person wrote a two page synopsis.

I wrote in scenes. This is just the way my brain works. A chapter may end up being more than one scene. I don't know yet. But I like being able to move scenes around until they flow logically and I often think up later scenes that tie in with earlier plot points. I also wrote a few pages for myself about the characters, getting to know them so I could plot their paths.

The book I'm working on for this class is a MG action/adventure with a mystery at its heart. So really, knowing where I'm going to end up is pretty essential to being able to tell this story at all!

Realizing that there was no right or wrong way to create an outline was really helpful. As I built my scenes, I realized something else: working out the major kinks and plot turns ahead of time is going to make writing this story go a lot faster. DUH!

I think I expected outlining to take away the creativity of writing my story, thought I'm not sure why. I'm still building this world and these people from the ground up. I'm just figuring out some of the structure of their story ahead of time, learning what makes them tick, looking for their turning points, their motivation.

Writing the outline has been fun but exhausting. I ended up with eight pages that I turned in this morning. Now I'll be jumping as every email comes in to see what comments my classmates and instructor have for me. Then I'll need to decide if I'm writing in first person, third person, present tense, past tense...but that's a decision for another day.

So tell me, are you a plotter or a pantser? And if you plot, what methods work for you?

23 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

I've always been a pantster, but I'm plotting for my next project. I've been working on that while revising my completed ms. I'm like you; I'm actually finding it easier than I thought it would be.

Kelly said...

I go with a general plot and then fly by the seat of my pants. But it would definitely be beneficial to try the outline way too.

Elana Johnson said...

I'm a pantser through and through. I sat down to outline once, and came up with lame one-liners that didn't help me at all. I was anxious. Overwhelmed. Blocked.

I gave that up and just sat down to write. And I could breathe again. So I pants it all the way.

Then I have to rewrite until I want to die, but so far, that's what works for me.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Big time plotter! I outline every story before I begin.
And you're right - there's no wrong way to do that. I think in terms of scenes as well. My outline is one long list of 1-3 lines, going from scene to scene.

Karen said...

I'm a plotter, but it is skeletal, just the major plot points. I do a lot of pantsing along the way...wait...that came out wrong. :)

MG Higgins said...

I'm a pantser, which for me means lots of fun on the front end (first draft) and a huge pain during rewriting as I try to fill plot holes and make those "fun" scenes fit together. Next project I've promised myself to write an outline first.

Jackee said...

Funny that you're switching ways. I'm doing the same thing, but opposite: I'm a big outliner and this time I wanted to see how it would feel to write with relative abandon. So far it's fun, but I still catch myself wanting to outline.

Good luck with the class, BTW.

Laura Pauling said...

I am a total plotter. When I outline and the muse is dancing I like to go with that flow and see where it leads me while I'm focused on it. But I leave oodles of room in each scene for creativity and even new direction.

Genie of the Shell said...

I used to be a pantser, but it always resulted in rambling narratives that were nothing but strings of good ideas or scenes without a coherent story.

Now, I plot. I find it so much easier to sketch out a story and THEN fill in all the wonderful scenes. Sometimes the original outline gets adjusted, but I always know where it's going and what the point is.

T. Anne said...

I've actually just turned into a plotter myself. I spent about a good two weeks mulling over story ideas for my new WIP. I think it made the overall bones of the plot stronger, however, my characters still rule the roost ;)

Crystal said...

Can one be both a pantser and plotter? Hmmm. I think I'm both because for my MG historical, some scenes I've plotted and some I've just done by the seat of my pants . . . I've never really tried to outline all the way. But I just might try it one day.

Sharon Mayhew said...

I haven't written a novel yet...I am working on a mg and a ya. I guess I write scene by scene. I jotted ideas down in scenes and create chapters from there. Most of the things I've written up until this point are pb or beginning chapter book length manuscripts.

Tess said...

I want to be a plotter....I try and try...but I end up being a pantster. Oh well, we do what we can I guess. I have gotten better at having a basic sketch outline of characters and events, though. That's an improvement I've made over the past year or so.

Cindy said...

I'm a pantser turned plotter (just last year, actually). NaNoWriMo made me a different kind of write. For the first time, I planned out my entire manuscript, and the characters. A chapter by chapter outline, including each separate scene and what pov it was going to be from. It ended up being several pages typed but it changed the way I look at writing. I loved it and now I am using that technique for my new WIP.

Daisy Whitney said...

I used to be total pantser but I did a 10-page outline for the second novel in my series bc it's part of my contract! That's a nice thing -- to HAVE to turn in an outline for approval. And it taught me to be a bit more plot focused so as I await feedback on that I am working on another novel and am trying to work out major plot points before I rush headlong into the story

Lori W. said...

Total panster and that clearly doesn't work out for me. I mean maybe eventually, but in first drafts I create major plot holes. Sigh. I'm trying the outline thing for my class, too.

Anna Lefler said...

"Pantser." I love that!

Your blog is wonderful...and I can relate to so much of it.

Take care and talk soon...

:-D Anna

Shelli said...

i love outlining - I know I am a geek.

Kelly H-Y said...

Total panster! Loved this post!

Solvang Sherrie said...

Susan: Surprising to discover, isn't it?

Kelly: It has been far more beneficial than I realized it would be.

Elana: I was blocked at first, too. It took me a long time to get over that and just write the damn thing!

Diane: Great minds :)

Karen: Pantsing works well for a lot of stories -- in more ways than one :)

MG: Good luck with outlining next time. It's hard to reform!

Jackee: How funny that we're swapping! And that you still want to plot!

Laura: I think realizing that it can change is vital.

Genie: Having a point is a good thing, no?

T.Anne: The characters have to rule, at least in my world :)

Crystal: I think I did both before. And I might not plot out everything on future books, but for this one it was very helpful.

Sharon: I like writing in scenes too. Good luck on the novel!

Tess: For some people that's all an outline is so you're already doing it :)

Cindy: That's so funny because NaNo used to be my excuse for being a pantser!

Daisy: A contract would be a REALLY good reason to become a plotter :)

Lori: We're learning, slowly but surely!

Anna: Knowing you, pantsing may happen with or without a plot :)

Shelli: Why am I not surprised? But it works well for you, doesn't it?

Kelly H-Y: Whatever works! It's different for everyone:)

PJ Hoover said...

Good luck!

I vary from project to project on how much I do ahead of time. My next project I think I'll do very little and see how it goes.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm a plotter all the way. But I do allow for flexibility because you never know where your characters will take you. Sometimes I end up with extra scenes or chapters I hadn't planned. But I never lose sight of where I'm going. And I alway return to the main road--eventually. :)

Becky Levine said...

Welcome to my world! Remember a few months ago,when I was whining because I was trying to write with less plot. I can't do it. I MUST have a goal and conflict--a few helps. And I think in scenes, too, rather than chapters. I think having some plot, any plot, ahead of time lets you start seeing connections AS you write, recognizing the magic of those layers, and I stay motivated out of that. (Okay, I'm still jealous of people who can write more free-form, too.)

What class is this?

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