Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on Plot

I've come to the conclusion that whether you're a plotter or a pantser, you inevitably end up a plotter to some degree. Not necessarily the over-achieving, uber-organized type, but plotting eventually wins out.

Lemme explain. You're merrily pounding the keyboard through your first novel. It's a wonderful story. The characters are like family. You know that editors and agents will be clamoring to get their hands on it. Then one day, you sit down and realize you have no idea how the book is going to end. Or you do, but you don't know how you're going to get your characters from point A to point B. Maybe you've entered it in a contest, certain you'll win, only to learn that your plot is weak. To strengthen it you have to PLOT. Take the elements you have in place and add to them, or strengthen them.

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is how well do you know your characters? I remember thinking I knew my characters in my first ms. And I guess I did, but I certainly wasn't being true to their character. I read through thinking, "She wouldn't say this. He wouldn't do that." Your characters will help drive your plot. But ya hafta know them first. Then throw rocks at 'em (I hate that part).

Finally, you sell that wonderful novel. Maybe another. All of a sudden, you have the luxury of selling proposal--an idea for a story, complete with first three chapters and synopsis. Guess what you gotta do to write that synopsis? Plot. Alas, you are forced to join the ranks of the plotters.

Does this mean you have to stop pounding out that wonderful story you've started? No, no, no. Especially not if it's a story you love. Often times I hear authors talk about the stories they have tucked under the bed that no one will ever see. And that's fine. They move from one story to the next, learning as they go. But what if it's a story you love? Keep at it. God has laid that story on your heart for a reason. Cut your teeth on it. So what if you revise 300 times. Each time it's a little bit better. You'll learn what works and what doesn't. By the time you're finished, its essence will still be intact. And when you move on, you'll be astounded at how your writing has improved. How you view the process.

Your turn. I'd especially like to hear from some reformed pantsers. What was the turning point for you? Has there ever been one?


  1. Great points, Mindy. I guess I'm really a reformed pantster. Once my critique group tore into my manuscript, and I spent about a year revising it, I realized that I would be better off sharing the early plotting with them to see if they thought it would work. So, like you said, that meant synopsis.

    I'm still selling on full mss. But after my last rejection, I sent my editor a revised synop to make sure it looked okay before writing the story. So I had to know the basic plot points.

    And I don't spend a full year revising anymore! I do some of the revising before I write it. :)


  2. Well, from my post you can tell I"m a in the middle plotter/panster. The more stories I write the more plottier (made up word) I get. Then Missy turned me on to "The Story Within" by Alicia Rasley. LOVE this tool. LOVE it. And Mindy, like you said, it's all about characters. I'd suggest getting this. If you go to her website it's really reasonable especially if you have her email it to you. Then you can download and print.
    LOVE this book.

  3. Missy, do you think you'll ever miss those days of having FOREVER to revise?

    Lindi, thanks for the info. I'm heading over to her website now.

  4. Actually, Mindy, part of the reason it took me forever to revise was because I hated it so! I just dreaded it. I love pouring out that first draft, but used to put off the work after that. Then I heard Anna DeStefano do a program on Rewriting, and I was a convert. Now I look at it as the OPPORTUNITY to make the book better. And you know, it truly is amazing what a different mindset can do.

    So now, I revise faster. Plus, I plan more so I don't have to revise quite as much. And then there is that deadline--a good motivator! :)

  5. I, too, started out as a panster and now I'm a plotter. Sometimes I write the synopsis before I write the book. When I first started writing, I couldn't write a synopsis without having a complete manuscript. I'm definitely reformed. I blogged about this a little on my blog today. A very timely post!

  6. Well, if you take the meaning of "plotting" to a different level...It doesn't have to be written out. We plot mischief, parties, ideas, our lives all the time. So plotting is really just deep thinking. Yes, I think we're all plotters at heart even if we don't get uber-organized about it on paper.