Friday, July 23, 2010

Plotting, Pantsing, Plotsing –

There are probably as many different ways to come up with a story and commit it to paper as there are story ideas. Some authors plot, some “Pants” (as in “fly by the seat of your”) and others do something in between. There are workshops and blog posts a plenty about them all. And when you’re a newbie it can be overwhelming trying to find just the right way to come up with your story elements.

I’ve attended workshops on elaborate story boarding complete with poster-board and multi-colored post-it notes. I’ve also attended workshops given by successful authors who didn’t plot a thing, they just sat and wrote and out plopped a best seller.

I am not an organized person – I try to be. At work I’m Little Miss Anal but in my personal life I’m neat, but not organized. I used to live with someone who alphabetized their books and CDs – mine just landed on a shelf in an arrangement that seemed nice. In my writing I’ve tried both plotting and pantsing and I’ve come to a conclusion – I’m neither, and both.

Last year I wrote a short story that I plotted out chapter by chapter. I will say that did make things easy when I sat down to write. It turned out okay and the story is finished (although needs to go through the editing phase). It worked out so well that I decided to do it for my novel length project. Turns out, plotting a novel chapter by chapter is very different from plotting a short story. But what I realized during my plotting frustration was that I was writing the ‘wrong’ story. My plot just wasn’t working and, to make matters even more frustrating, a bit of research brought up a whole new story idea that I just wanted to write. Not plot. But write.

So, that’s what I did. I set aside Novel #1 and began writing the current WIP I’m calling “Montana Groom”. The first few chapters are rough at best – there’s plenty of telling and not showing, characters who are one way and then another and we won’t even talk about the grammar issues. But yesterday at lunch I had a writer’s “ah ha!” moment. I figured out my major internal conflicts for my hero and heroine. This of course means re-writing the opening chapters (but like fellow Melt-Ink Potter Samantha said, better that than the whole book!) but it also means that from here on out I know how I want the story to go. And I’m going to plot – kind of. I’m going to write out the main scenes that I want to have happen (if only so I don’t forget). I’m not to the halfway point yet but I do feel like it’s all down hill from here on this novel.

So will this approach work on another project? It’s hard to say. What I’ve learned is that each story is different. What works for this project might not work for another. I’ve also learned that’s okay. Getting the words down is what matters in the end.


Samantha said...

You act like there's something wrong with alphabetizing my books and cds? I'll have you know that I no longer do that :p Now I might have the books on my TBR shelves organized by genre and author but you wouldn't expect to ever just have them willy nilly, would you?

Sheila said...

I have to confess, I'm another alphabetizer. It's driving me crazy that my CDs are all still in boxes and I can't alphabetize them so I can find what I'm looking for.

As far as stories, I usually start out with at least a vague idea of who the characters are and where I want the story to go. Then as I go along, at the bottom of my document, I'll sometimes list out scenes or make little notes about things that have to happen at certain points in the story. The idea is that by the end of the story, all of these notes should have been subsumed into the story, but it doesn't always work that way.

I'm not sure I could write to an outline. I like the way my characters surprise me along the way, and that helps keep things fresh as I write.

I'm really looking forward to reading "Montana Groom". I love the concept.