Friday, March 21, 2014

Plotting Your Novel Part 1

In the last week I have talked with two different writers who are having trouble plotting their stories. One, who said she was stuck, and the other, my friend Jodi, who is trying to see her book and how she should proceed with the story. In other words, what steps should happen.

When Jodi and I started talking, I realized she needed to plot out her chapters. That way she can see the book and how it should progress, and if my other friend would start plotting and not write by the seat of her pants, she wouldn't run into being stuck.

I know there are writers who think it's okay to be a pantser, but as my other friend soon found out, you can get stopped. Sometimes, you can write yourself into a corner. That's why I will be talking about plotting the next two posts. 

I will split it up so I can cover more information for those of you needing help with this particular subject. 

There is, of course, the beginning, middle, and end to your story, but I will touch on hints that hopefully will set you on the right path. 

The Beginning: 

When you first decide on your basic story it needs to begin at the correct spot. I talked about this a few post back. Sometimes you just have to write the rough draft and then when your ready to do revisions you can look at the place where the book should begin.

1. As I said before, your first chapter needs to hook the reader. There are two basic principles in doing that. 1, a compelling character, and 2, a promise of a gripping story. If you can simply create a character that the reader will care about, they will continue to read. The character needs to be likable and not perfect, especially since none of us are. Again, this goes back to character outlines.

2. Don't introduce to many characters in the beginning. The reader will get confused as to who is who. Keep it simple and build from the first chapter about what will happen next.

3. Make sure you are keeping to the first chapter true to what is to come. If it is action, then give them some. If it is a troubled person, then give them a taste of the issues facing that character. 

4. Devote extra time to your first chapter. It will help you outline what is to come and hopefully will hook the reader into wanting more. As I said before, we rewrote chapter one at least 10 times before we felt it was compelling enough to grab the reader and hold on.

On to plotting:

1. You've set up the beginning and know how the story will end. Now to figure out what needs to happen to get you from point A to point Z. Of course, the first step is going from A to B. At first things are basically normal. Your character is doing their normal routine, paying the bills, going to work, whatever. But soon you need to have something happen to them that gets the story rolling. 

2. A phone call that changes everything, a stranger watching them, a car trying to run them off the road. You get the picture. Now they are going from the mundane to excitement, even if it's not excitement they wish to face.

3. This is where you begin to plot how the character(s) deal with the situation and how they manage to get themselves out of the issue facing them. 

4. Write out a simple step by step outline as to what the character will do in each scene, starting with the initial incident. Maybe you figure out each scene and each chapter for the first 5 chapters, and then you need a sub-plot to keep the action coming. That is usually saved for the middle of your story.

5. Once you have written your basic outline you can see what will happen next to advance the story and keep the reader turning the page.

6. As with anything, things can change, so if you find that what you thought would happen next changes, that's okay, at least you know how the outcome will be since you created a starting and ending plot. As long as it rings true, such as how the police would react in a situation, or how the best friend would help, you will know what direction your story needs to go and what new problems will arise. 

7. As I said before, you need to know the ending of the book before you can plot out the story. And your plotting needs to bring you to that end. It helps to see your entire book in front of you so you can find where the problems lie or where you need to add action  since your story is sagging. 

8. If your story is sagging, it needs sub-plots, in other words, more problems the characters need to face. But it should all come back to the original goal or quest and accomplishing it. 


I will go into the middle and end next Friday. If you have any questions about how to plot out your beginning scenes, leave me a comment. I would be glad to help. It is basically brainstorming each scene and each chapter and writing the steps down. 



In the mean time, have a great weekend all and I will meet you back here in one week!

Love, Lisa
















3 comments:

  1. I figured I would try crawling out of my hidey-hole and actually get back to writing, so I shall warm up by adding to your plotting series.

    I'm very glad you included point 6. I find a lot of what keeps people from plotting is that they feel like they have to stick to the outline and stick to the plot with no digressions, and then they get stuck anyway because they know the story has to change but they can't reconcile what they've already plotted out--they want to stick to what they wrote. That stopped me for a while one time. Then I tossed the entire outline and everything went smoothly from there.

    I find that when I get stuck, it's almost always because I didn't foresee some small detail (or cascade of small details) in my original outline. That's one of the unfortunate truths: no matter how hard we try, we can't create with the full level of detail while only plotting a book. Consequently, we won't know everything until we've written it in detail. And unless we're willing to write a 300-page treatment of a 400-page book to make sure we don't miss anything (and we still will), we're going to waste a lot of time plotting things that change or don't happen in the first place.

    Not that one shouldn't plot. A road map is always handy, and if nothing else, it gives you ideas when you're stuck for them. Even better still are all of the scenes we've deleted from other books, small ideas we never got off the ground, or whatever other material we ended up not using at some point in time. All of those little things can be integrated into any book they fit into, sometimes with very little tweaking.

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    1. Yes, I consider a plotting outline to be a basic one. There's always room for change because I know my story changed when I found discrepancies during the rewrite. It needs to ring true though or the reader will see right through it. As far as pansters not getting stuck or writing themselves into a corner, it happens a lot with beginning writers. This is why I suggest to them to outline and plot their story. the most important is know your ending before you plot. Without it, it makes it hard to figure out all that must happen and in what sequence that makes perfect since and rings true. I do think you should write your rough draft first and then when you go back to rewrite and clean up, that's when you should plot if there seems to be sagging chapters. I have seen most writers will think it's all good and lose the reader with too much info dump and other creative writing issues.

      Another issue I have seen a lot in American novels is headhopping. This is NOT okay. It can confuse the reader and, not to mention, makes the book have a lot of telling, not showing. I believe a clean, tight book is the best to keep readers coming back. We work on our craft continuously and believe if you want to better yourself as a writer then the importance of learning that no one is perfect and should be working on themselves, and their writing everyday.

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  2. I find it funny when a pantser gets stuck. I only really tend to get stuck when I have identified that there's an issue with a detail in the story that I actually have plotted in detail. But truthfully, a good pantser can't get stuck. We're improv artists. It's what makes us tick. We make shit up, and we can write our way out of hot water.

    My major path into writing was through online text-based role-playing (no dice/stats). I generally call it collaborate storytelling, because you create stories with other people using your own characters. These are characters you've devoted some level of time in fleshing out backstories. In my later RP years, I would often juggle 3-4 of them (rarely in the same plot, since that was often verboten), or some NPCs (non-player characters, which was a term used to denote plot-only or redshirt/throwaway characters). But one of the things that environment taught me was creativity under pressure. Improvization. Because a lot of the time, things wouldn't go the way you planned.

    Case in point, in every single major plot arc I ever devised, something would blow the entire thing up and I would still recover it the best I could. Sometimes that didn't please the staff of the storyworld. Often it was the staff that threw the spanner in in the first place (actually, dare I say I never ran a single plot that staff somehow screwed over). Despite the interference, however, I always tied things up the satisfaction of the other people involved, and that helped me with the personal dissatisfaction that resulted in things not going remotely as planned. It also prepared me for the world of fiction writing, where virtually everything I have thus far written has evolved considerably from the original outline, to the point that I don't really bother anymore.

    I take notes, write little bits and pieces here and there about scenes I want to incorporate. I always have a rather firm idea of where I'm headed and how to get there, though I confess, there are a few times I know where I want to head but can't find the road for the life of me--nothing helps me better there than taking a bit of time away from that project, maybe get some composing done or tinker with some 3D or fractal art, or 3D fractal art.

    When it comes to plotting, I think the most important thing is to paint with broad strokes and outline in whatever manner you find most comfortable. It's fine to go into detail, but don't consider that the final cut. The fine details often change over time. The broad strokes, the big battles the characters face (whether metaphorical or literal) are often unchanging.

    And never discount in media res (a literary term, from the Latin, meaning in the midst of things): start in the middle. While used most often in thrillers and action-adventures, this literary tool can be used pretty much anywhere to get a jump-start on the action. It necessarily eliminates big info dumps (when action is going, you can't slow down to explain things, so you have to let the action and characters do that) and ratchets up the action to levels that won't bore readers.

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