Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Finding the plot.

I was just wondering, how do you approach plotting?

I think lack of adequate plotting was what ground me to a standstill with the DeadBeats novel, as although I knew what I wanted to happen I had little idea how to get there. It being the first novel I'd attempted I use my tried and tested short story strategy of working out your key points and then working out how they link up ~ easy enough over 2000 words, but not a sutainable strategy over 100,000 words.

So, with the new novel I'm determined to plot it out properly, as far as is possible. Unfortunately I don't quite know how to tackle this. Liz has recommended "Writing the Breakout Novel" (Donald Maass), and Zinnia has pointed me in the direction of "Plot And Structure"(James Scott Bell) , both of which I am grateful for and will be checking out. I've also been ovewhelmed by the many approaches to plotting identified in Wannabe a writer ~ maybe I'll attempt a thread chart this evening (or maybe I'll just watch the CSI season finale with wine and Kettle chips...)

So, does anyone have any fool-proof plotting strategies, any cautionary tales or any other plotting related advice or recommendations they can share, in order to to shed a little light into my dimly lit plotscape?


Cathy said...

No strategies, I'm afraid, but I will be interested to see if anyone else has any good ideas, because I have hit the same problem. I've only ever written stories and short pieces and I can't get out of that mindset. Trying to write a novel is a whole new game!

leatherdykeuk said...

I tend to use the hero's journey as a template for my stories. I plot it out beforehand as much as I can, using "Write it Now" (well worth the money).

KeVin K. said...

I have mine delivered by a service....

Actually I usually have the high points and pivotal moments roughed in, then just churn out words until everything's been accounted for.

Nichola said...

I never plot. I just start writing and keep going until I reach the end. I've always believed that writing about writing is not writing. You need to just get on with finishing the book.

Character is plot, and if you know your characters inside out, just ask them what they would do and they'll tell you.

I once wrote 50k words in a month without so much as a character sketch, though, and that became the book I'm re-drafting now. It's probably the best thing I've ever written and it's the least-planned, least-plotted piece of work I've ever produced.

CTaylor said...

Hi Kate

When I started my novel I re-read this site several times:


I knew my beginning, I knew my ending and I knew what the climax was - I just didn't really know what happened in between.

What I did was take a piece of paper and divide it into 16 squares. For a 90,000 word novel that was just over 5,000 words a chapter and seemed about right to me (that's not how it's turned out though - my chapters vary in length and there are far more than 16). Anyway, what I did then was scribble the beginning into the first box, scribble the ending into the last box and scribble the details of the climax into a box about 3/4 of the way through. I then entered the major scenes I envisaged into some of the boxes and, where I didn't know how they'd interlink - I left a blank.

To be honest I only had the vaguest idea of how to get from beginning to end and the blank chapters only appeared in my mind as I actually started writing and the characters decided what they needed to do next.

If I ever got a bit blocked I'd sit down and write a very brief outline of the scenes that needed to happen in that chapter. Then I could see the direction I was going in and, even if I didn't know what would happen in the chapter the followed at least I had some kind of forward momentum. Then, when the idea for the next chapter formed in my my mind I'd sketch out the scenes again.

That all sounds very wishy washy I know but it's what worked for me. I don't think I could ever write a very complete plot outline as part of the excitement of writing, for me, is discovering the characters and letting them move the novel forward as I throw obstacle after obstacle at them.

I'd recommend James N Frey's "How to Write a Damned Good Novel."

Cathy said...

Cally, that is very interesting as it is pretty well the approach I am taking. Sometimes I worry that I am not plotting enough, then at other times I think that if I map it all out in too much detail it could all end up too formulaic. You are right, the story should to a large extent be character driven within a broad framework.

Thanks for helping me realise that what I am doing can work!

Rowan Coleman said...

For this last book I wrote plot that was as long as some peoples novels! However I don't think this is generally a good plan. I write characters first, which I think is so important, shoddy characterisation can ruin a good plot, then a plot outline. But I think it's important to be open to spontaneity (have I spelt that right?) I think some of the best bits of my books come out of the blue during the writing process, so, as long as you know where you are heading it's good to free style a little bit.