Thursday, April 9, 2015

How I Became a Plotter: Goals

This is one off the most personally useful things I have learned to utilize as a plotter-in-training.
Part of the reason I became a plotter is because being a pantser made me crazy and not fun...or really even bearable.

I would obsess over writing enough each day, but "enough" as a panster meant writing until I was happy and satisfied with what I'd written. As many of you know, no one ever stops writing when they're are happy and satisfied. That's when we plow through on a rainbow sparkled writing high until we run out of steam and chug right up to "I'm a terrible writer" station.

It was usually at this point that I would need to stop. Either because I had to make dinner or do some other thing to maintain life OR because I hated my writing so much that I was too depressed to continue. If it was the latter, I would go days without writing and be unbearably grumpy in the interim.

So, now, every day I set a goal, usually around 1500 words. I write until I reach that goal and then I stop. When I am done, even if I end at a low point (boo!), I know I reached my goal (yay!). I put in the time and I produced something. I don't get depressed about it because my goal isn't mounds of gloriously written prose. It's 1,500 words. That's it.

Tips for daily word count goals:

1. Set your goal for whatever you have time for.
I can write about 1,500 in an hour on a good day and I almost always have at least an hour in my day so I know I can do it.

2. Allow yourself to NOT THINK ABOUT WRITING once you hit your goal.
I can actually be involved with my family rather than worrying about my story now.* Of course sometimes revelations will come to you and should be jotted down, but IT'S OKAY to clock in and clock out as a writer.  .

3. Really make yourself STOP once you reach your goal.
Or shortly after. Yes, it's awesome to outdo yourself, but when I come back to a story the next day with fresh eyes and renewed spirits I OFTEN find that the direction I was going in was good, but if I had gone much further in that particular direction it would have been boring and predictable. So I alter my course. I am not so absorbed and committed to a certain direction as I might have been the day before because I've had time to cool off.

Next Time: Mushy Middle
Previous Post: Crappy First Drafts

*Plotting in general has helped with this as well, because I'm not constantly trying to organize plot problems in my head, it's all already plotted out on paper

How I became a Plotter: Crappy First Draft

   I have a friend who recently came to me for advice because she is feeling a little lost about who she is and what she should be doing with her life. She had done a lot of thinking up to that point and journal writing and still felt stressed. My advice was simply:

There is only so much thinking and planning and list making you can do before you HAVE to get out there and test the waters. Try out some ideas and see if they work for you. If they don't move on to the next but TAKE ACTION! 

Little did I know, I was going to have to take my own advice.

Apparently, a problem with being a plotter is getting stuck in the plotting stage. I started thinking about all those little tips from writers/publishers/agents that all advised to “Write a crappy first draft.”

Their words nagged and irritated me because the "crappy first draft" feels completely counterintuitive to my new “I'm gonna be a plotter” approach. Just sit down and write out a stupid first draft? Even if my character decides to end a pointless argument with, You’re a stinky poo-poo head? Where is the method in that? Where is the strategy?!

 In my pantser days, I thought a crappy first draft was simply a reminder to not get distracted by editing as I write, but it’s not and it definitely is NOT in contradiction to Plotterism.* Here's why:

1. Getting stuck in plotting phase is such a plotter hazard it’s important to get started or else you never will. There are endless things to make lists about and research and post-it note. You could seriously do it forever. At some point you have to cut yourself off and just begin. You may not feel ready but that's okay, get started and allow yourself to write some crap. Pat yourself on the back when a scene is truly crappy, you got it down! You can mold it later.

2. You will not REALLY be able to see the shape of things (your story) and get a feel for the mood and the real creative stuff until you get the whole ball of clay (or crap) on the table.

So, here’s the deal. Some online friends started a NaNoWriMo NOT in November. Initially, I was like, “Yeah, no...I'm plotting (foreverrrrr).” But after so wisely advising the friend I mentioned above, I realized, I have to do it. This is a crucial step in the whole plotting procedure. And now that I view it as just another step - another thing to check off the plotting list - it's not such a big deal. Hooray for checklists!

Anyway, wish me luck. Crappy first draft, you're mine.

Next Time: Setting Goals
Previous Post: Surprise!(Just when you think you have it all plotted out)

*Yes, I made that word up.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I love this article by author, Andy Weir about the top reasons why writers procrastinate and how to stop. I often go back and reread it and thought it might be helpful to others.

Here's my favorite part:

2: Stories are always more awesome in your head than they are on paper

Your heroine, Susan, had neglectful and disinterested parents. This made her overwhelmingly driven to excel. She’s the youngest Vice President in the history of her Fortune 500 company. One day, while grabbing dinner with her wise-cracking gay friend Bob, she meets Joe. He’s a good man, and handsome, but not “successful”. He’s content to take life easy. Will Susan compromise her obsession with upward mobility to find happiness with Joe?

That’s the idea you had, anyway. But when you tried to write it, you got this:

“Susan first saw Joe at the diner. He looked good. Bob was there, too.”

Read the whole article here!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

How I became a Plotter: Surprises

The main complaint/argument/slap fight I see between pantsers and plotters seems to be: "Plotting is too formulaic and there are no surprises. I want to go on the journey and learn and grow and experience everything alongside my character."

As a former pantser I admit that this sounded a bit like me. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the planning and strategy and list making that comes with becoming a plotter (see intro post for my OCD tendancies), I also love experiencing a good story and feeling like what I am creating is alive and has a mind of it's own and I have to wrangle it, and tame it, and make it mine!!

Oo, the power got to me there for a minute.

Well, I want to finally and absolutely debunk this myth.

While sticky note plotting act three I had a fairly clear vision of what my MC was going to do. The choice he was going to make was solid and seemed to be the only choice available, really. As I picked up the sticky note to write down some of the details of this choice...I wrote something completely different! Something I had never even considered! Something that made everything So-Much-Cooler, and I got that tingly feeling writer's get* when their story really comes to life for the first time.

So, myth DEBUNKED. And I would also like to say that, as a pantser, if this epiphany had occurred in the third act -when I was actually writing - it would have been a serious pain in the hiney. Rather than having to rewrite earlier scenes so they would match up with my new epiphany, here was my method:

Write new sticky note.
Unstick old sticky note.
Throw in garbage.

Yep, plotting makes epiphanies easier. I'm putting that on a t-shirt.

*I'm not the only one, right?

Next Time: Crappy First Drafts
Previous Post: Getting Unstuck

How I Became a Plotter: Getting Unstuck

I thought the whole "plotting out with sticky notes" stage would be cake. It's simply plugging info into the appropriate slots and then happily fleshing out scenes until, boom: a novel!

Yeah, no.

Right around the second half of act two, I got stuck. Not while writing the book, while sticky note plotting. I just want to make that clear. So, fyi, meticulous plotting does NOT save you from writers block.

I repeat:  Meticulous plotting does NOT save you from writer's block.

It is an unavoidable hazard of the job, my friends. When I realized this it was all I could do to not fall into my old ways and curl up on the couch with Oreos and Pinterest and think through the block.

Instead, I squared my shoulders and jutted my chin and thought: "I am a plotter now! There's no more sitting around and waiting for inspiration! No more aimless writing until things get worked out. NO! I will find an exercise or a method for this!...Dangit."

And I totally did.

Flow charts. Here's my method:

1. Figure out the question that is blocking you from moving forward.
I have found that writer's block is almost always a question I can't answer. Once I realized this writer's block became a lot less obnoxious. It's not a big brick wall, it's a puzzle. It just needs to be solved. Sometimes it might be more than one question. I recommend breaking those up into separate, smaller questions and tackling them one at a time...for sanity reasons.

2. Write the question in the middle of a piece of paper.
I like to use good old fashioned pen and paper, although I have heard people rave about a program called Scapple. I've played with it a little bit, but eventually went back to the tried and true. Just personal preference.

3. Write every possible answer you can conceive of no matter how ridiculous.
I write all of the answers around the question and draw connector lines from the question to each answer like sun rays or bicycle spokes.

4. Off of each answer, using more 'sun ray' lines, answer the following:
What would need to happen for this to work with previous plot points?
How it would affect the future plot?
Does it feel right for the mood?
How does it tie in or add meaning/depth to other parts of the story?

Eventually it starts to look like this:

Usually, by the last step, I have found a path around my writers block. I will often start to elaborate on one particular answer and neglect the others. That one is always the most appropriate solution.

So there it is. Never get stuck least not for long.

 Flow charts FTW.

Next Time: Getting surprised by plot twists as a plotter. Is it possible?
Previous Post: Sticky Note Plotting

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How I Became a Plotter: Sticky Notes

This is a long one, people. You have been warned.
Actual image of my sticky note rainbow.

So can I just take a second to emphasize the absolute life-saving necessity of a good solid plot outline? Even as a pantser I scribbled out a basic plot outline because if I tried to hold all the ideas, subplots, character interactions, and chronology inside my brain I never would have been able to organize it all into something even remotely cohesive.

As a plotter-in-training, I had big plans to outline with so much detail that all I would have to do is add some descriptive words and dialogue and I'd have a first draft. Boom.

Once I got over that delusion, I worked up a more realistic approach:

1. I wrote three headings along the top of my white board: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
Now, there is some debate about the 3-Act Structure and whether it is the best way to go about writing a novel. I think, maybe, this argument stems from people not wanting to trap writing/creativity into any kind of formula - which I get - but, personally, I think it's nice to have guidelines to learn from and expand on. Anyway, there are plenty of other 'structures' you can follow, this is the one I picked.

2. Along the top of the white board - beneath the "Act" headings - I listed what should occur in each act.
I used the character arc exercise here and a 3-Act structure template I can't seem to find now* and plugged in the following:

Act 1
   Reveal M.C. flaws (character arc)
   The Call/Inciting Moment (plot structure)
   1st disaster (plot structure)
Act 2
   Introduce Moral opposite (character arc)
   Attempted Solution/2nd disaster (plot structure)
   Inward training (character arc)
   3rd disaster/internal failure (plot structure)
Act 3
   Big Choice (character arc)
   Solution/Resolution (plot structure)

3. Along the left side of my white board I listed every plot, subplot, relationship, behind-the-scenes plots, I thought was important.

Here is a generic list based on mine:

M.C. main goal
M.C. secondary goal
M.C. friendship with supporting character
M.C. relationship with other supporting character
Antagonists goal/plans
Supporting character's relationships with each other
Other subplots

4. I drew vertical lines separating the plot moments and stuff, pulled out my sticky notes and a pen, and closed the door.

5. I pulled up the exercise from my previous post and started plugging the info I'd gathered there into the appropriate places on my white board outline/grid.

6.I took about three days to do this.
Partly because, kids. (Who knew they needed to eat and stuff, psht.) But also because I got stuck a couple times. The beauty of sticky notes is you can write whatever you like, see if it works, and if it doesn't: unstick, crumple, throw away. I have also become a big advocate of flow charts for working out questions/problems that arise. I may have to get into that in another post.

Whew! So that's my big outline. I refer to it just about every writing day. Just seeing it all laid out in a rainbow of sticky notes keeps me from getting discouraged because the whole story is already there, it just needs a little fattening up.

Does my method not quite work for you? Check out some more outlining gloriousness:

The many faces of plot structure - Beyond the three act structure.
Beat sheeting template - Screenwriter's method for laying out plot. Definitely trying this next time.
More beat sheeting info
All about mini plots - Breaking down each SCENE. Now we're getting crazy. Watch out.

*Google Image "plot structure" and you will find a bazillion templates
**I added setting after I was all done, but I think it's incredibly important. Yes, you can just throw your characters anywhere in the world that you've created for them, but why not have the setting reflect the mood of that moment. For instance: Your M.C. meets with a shady new character for unknown reasons. Could they meet in an alley? Sure. But what if they met in a foggy cemetery, playing up the mystery of the moment and foreshadowing a possible fatal outcome?

Previous Post: Working Out an initial Plot Outline
Next Time: Getting Unstuck (aka The Flow Chart)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sketch Dailies

The other day I stumbled on a perfectly wonderful time-waster/procrastination-enabler called Sketch Dailies. The artists that contribute are waaaayyy out of my league, but anyone can participate.
Every weekday they give their followers a drawing prompt on Twitter. Here is my submission for #mermaid:
She's an angelfish!

Update: This image was so fun the first time I thought I would make a more complete piece of artwork!