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