This is the second post about my pre-writing process. If you haven’t checked out the first part, you can find it here.
Today it’s all about plotting.
But, here’s a confession.
I’m not much of a plotter. I’m generally what we call in the writing world a plantser. That is, someone who writes by the seat of their pants (panster), but someone who also likes to have a basic idea of how and where the story is going.
My plotting, or plansting process has been one aspect of my writing that always seems to be churning and unsettled. In the 12 some projects I’ve done, each has been plotted a different way with varying degrees of success. This is one part of my writing that I’m hoping to further develop into a personal style that I can firmly understand and follow. But for today, we will focus on the things that typically happen while I am plotting out the story of my latest project.
I start with what I already know. For my current WIP I know I have an exiled pirate, a band of Imperial sailors after exiled pirate’s crew and that, eventually, said pirate becomes a captain and must take responsibility for a horrible course of action taken during the events of the novel.
Beyond that, I know very little. So it’s time to brainstorm to find out more and fill in some of the gaps. I like to do this very specifically with a ballpoint pen (not a gel or liquid ink pen) in a paper sketch pad with newsprint paper. I’m not sure why this preliminary brainstorming has to happen in this way, but I’ve tried other paper, other pens, even typing and always found myself less happy with the results when I stray from the good old newsprint and ballpoint pen.
For this step, I just write. Informally to myself, half planning, half pep talk. An example of what a paragraph might read like:
Okay. So. What am I writing about? Pirates. Specifically pirates against the Imperials. Trying to do what? Find the treasure? No. Why are the Imperials after the pirates? (they are pirates, maybe that’s why, duh Chiante). No but more than that. The pirates oooh! Yes. The pirates have stolen an artifact locked away on a remote Imperial controlled island and….yes yes yes and the artifact, under the pirates’ control, could overturn the control of the trading ports currently dominated by Imperials allowing all pirates essentially free reign of the seas. Yeas. I love it. This is good. Okay. There’s a betrayal on the pirate side. The climax is a battle between an Imperial fleet and a pirate coast. And sacrifice will have to be made. Excellent.
As you can see, it is rough and vague, but this paragraph provides a basic plotline for me to follow while I write. I have stopped here in the past and just written until all the plot points had been hit or modified. I find this type of writing generally the most fun, but the result is often a mess full of plot holes and weak story development.
The next step I like to do is to write out a chronology of the story from beginning to end both in terms of the actual story and as the elements of plot (inciting incident, rising action, climax, etc). This is done in bullet points and will sometimes cover subplots and important themes and threads that I don’t want to drop throughout the story.
After these two steps, everything else is extra. That being said, these two steps might happen over the course of a couple weeks, if not longer. I find that taking time with plotting and trying out the story before committing is incredibly helpful.
For example, in my WIP I thought the main character was going to start as a pirate and stay a pirate the whole book. Last night I was writing an experimental scene where my MC questions the morality of pirates and decides she doesn’t want anything to do with them. And I really liked the scene. It held true to her background and upbringing. It just made sense that she wouldn’t want to be pirate. Obviously that changed everything. My first plot point (MC becomes a pirate) got erased. Now I will have to go back to the newsprint paper and rewrite the brainstorming out. And that’s okay.
I like to let the plot sit for a while after I’ve done my newsprint and timeline. I’ll play it out in my mind and try writing parts of the book. If I’m not meshing with it, I go back and try to make the plot better. It may involve fixing minor issues or stripping the story back down to its characters and starting over. I’ve never regretted taking the extra time to recreate my plot several times, often finding it getting better as new ideas are formed and as I get to know my characters and their dynamics with each other and their world. That being said, I’m careful to avoid the endless plot revision loop. I don’t see the point in wrestling with a plot I know will change throughout revisions. And I try not to get too worked up if there is something not quite coming together.
That all said, being the plantser that I am, eventually the only thing left to do is dive in and write!
What kind of plotting do you like to do?