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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Month of Plotting!

This month the Noodlers will be noodling about plotting. And who better to start off talking about plotting than a writer who doesn’t plot!

Don’t worry--there will be plenty of published authors blogging about plotting later on in the weeks to come--talented, multi-published authors who actually know what they’re doing. But hey, I have finished seven novels and every single one of them has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, even though I don’t write an outline or fill out character sheets before writing “chapter one,” I do brainstorm as I go along and I thought it would be fun for all of us to share how we get from the first chapter to the last.

Before I begin a story, I know both my heroine and hero’s goal and motivation. I also spend some time playing with characters’ names and finding the right research books. I love using Football for Dummies or Nutritionists for Dummies…whatever Dummy book will work, depending on what my characters do for a living, etc.

And then I start writing.

If I get stuck, usually around page 100, I brainstorm right there on the screen…everything that comes to mind. I don’t waste time making another file or jotting down notes on paper. I don’t want to stop the creative process. When I’m done brainstorming, I scroll back to where I left off in the scene and continue on with my story. Here’s an example that I pulled from my current WIP:

Derek can buy lots of baby stuff, swings, toys, etc. the next day he sets all the stuff up.

Go to first pediatrician appt. together. Art festival? Look up things to do in Los Angeles.

Jill comes to visit at the apartment. Need this to happen before they go to barbeque.Then it comes out what Sandy said and she can tell that he is afraid of leading her on.

Need to have a BARBEQUE! Meet his family.

Sandy will notice that Derek has a thing for Jill. Jane won’t think too much of it.

Jane goes to Derek’s place late at night when her baby is sick with a fever. He takes her to the emergency room and they talk and he is very sweet and helpful

Need to look up recipes. Have a theme each month for cooking magazine.

That’s it! This sort of brainstorming gets my creative juices flowing again. Sometimes I meet with a writer friend and we make long lists of possible events.

Knowing my character’s goals and motivations is what keeps my fingers clicking away. I know what my characters want…I know their goal(s) and their motivation for wanting it and that is the ultimate driving force of every book I write from beginning to end. This is what I think about every step of the way: What does my heroine want? How far will she go to get it? What does my hero want, and so on. Every scene should have a purpose, and how can a scene have a purpose if you don’t know what the characters want?

Many times I am writing a scene and suddenly the story comes to a halt. I used to worry for days about what might have gone wrong. But now I cut and paste the scene to another file and start the scene over. I no longer waste time angsting over what went wrong because 99% of the time, the problem is a) I wasn’t ready for that particular scene yet (i.e. too soon for h/h to kiss, or b) the scene was bad or boring or both and had to go. Either way, I no longer waste time over-analyzing. Starting a scene over usually does the trick and once again my fingers are tapping away at the keyboard and I feel happy again. (Note: never delete these scenes because you might be able to use them later.)

And that’s how I write a book from beginning to end. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? As most of you know, it’s not. And every time I start a new book I find myself wondering how I wrote the last one.

Now tell me your method of madness. How do you get from chapter one to The End? Do you start with names, setting, gmc? Do you write chapter one and then start typing?

On Tuesday and Thursday we will be brainstorming and the Noodlers would love to help! Give us a problem that you’re having with a scene and let’s brainstorm ideas of where you can go from there. All you need to do is give the basics of your story and where you’re stuck. Then we can all toss in ideas (crazy or not) of where the scene could go next. It’s quick, fun, easy, and it can’t hurt. Be ready to join in and brainstorm with the Noodlers on Thursday.

For the month of March, I will be putting a ticket with your name on it into a box every time you comment. If you comment five times in one day, then five tickets go into the box. On March 31st I will blindly reach into my box and pick a name. The winner will receive a $20 gift card to Borders!

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At 10:26 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

Thank you for starting the plotting month from a "pantser" pov. I especially appreciate the transcription from your work in progress and the recommendation to completely cut the scene when it screeches to a halt. I've always been hesitant to do that since I can sometimes salvage them later. Still it makes sense to tuck it away and keep typing.
Thanks for the advice!
I LOVE this blog :)

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Plotting! Now there's an area where I could learn a few things. For my first ms, I pantsed my way through most of it. Didn't like the end result.

So this time I'm trying to plot/plan more on the front end. Spent time doing character sketches so I'd know my characters better. Problem this time? Can't get out the gate.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Eden, thanks for being the first commenter on Plotting! :)

Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you sometimes spend too many days worrying whether a scene "feels" right, or was I the only one who wasted time doing that?

And if anyone has any tips on how to figure out "what comes next" please share!

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Patricia, that is exactly what happened to me on my very first manuscript. I plotted extensive outlines and character sheets and that book took me five years to write! I do like that book just took too long.

I wonder if we are all really pansters--you know what I mean? Even if we take the time to plot things out in the beginning...we still need to face the blank page eventually--and then we're back to being a panster with an outline.

One of the noodlers will be talking about plotter vs. pantster in more detail later in the month.

But back to you, Patricia, I guess you're hoping that by planning and plotting in the beginning that your book will be more cohesive in the end? What don't you like about your first ms? And what is stopping you from getting out of the gate this time?

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Notice: I have a very strange contest going on right now, but the prize is a sapphire ring, so take a look at
The thing I'm envying, Theresa, is that you don't seem to need a change of scene. It all takes place at the computer. That's so efficient. I tend to switch to a different medium when I get stuck. It wastes time, and spreads my information around too much.

I'm actually going through some plotting problems with a deadline looming. My problem is that I've got my biggest cast of characters so far, and maybe too much of an external plot. (I never thought I'd say that.) I can think of at least four variations on how it could go. I'm about to write down the most dramatic timeline/list of plot points possible for my heroine and make everything else serve that. If I have to sacrifice some logic along the way and second-time readers say, "WTF?" Well, I should have such problems. This slavishness to perfect logic in characters must stop. We don't tick along on all mental cylinders all the time, even though that's my goal as a perfectionist. Plus, I'm writing about elves, for crying out loud. I have got to loosen up.

(This cry from the heart was brought to you by the sequel to Bound to Love Her, coming out in May.)

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I wonder if you're trying so hard to do it "right" this time, that you can't get started. Give yourself permission to write a really bad first chapter or first draft. I believe noodler Anna DeStefano spoke about this sort of paralysis at a GRW meeting and maybe at M&M. What I remember most is her saying that revision is your friend and she had some great handouts that made sense. She can say it better than I can. Click on articles for writers.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Yes, Esri, I agree with your comment...let all that perfect logic stuff go...being a perfectionist will just slow you down and suck all the creative juices right out of you! I'm sure you can make any of your plot choices seem logical in the revision process.

I'm off to check out your contest...

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I've had a real adventure with plotting lately. I'm working on a single title proposal and I've plotted out at least four versions in four or more synopses. So this time plotting has been an evolution.

Since selling I've had to do the synopsis before writing the book and that has forced me to outline a plot instead of "fly into the mist" like I used to do.

But still I only think up a few scenes. The rest I figure out as I come to them.

Don't be afraid to change your plot if it isn't working. I've certainly changed my plot for this proposal.

Like Theresa, I do everything on my laptop. No handwritten notes for me; my notes are in a file on the computer, as are my brainstorming and especially my character list complete with photographs. And, like Theresa, I start with my characters. I have a pretty good understanding of who they are before I start the plot--but I'm not afraid to change them either. I've changed my heroine's name about 10 times!

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Thanks for joining in, Diane. That's one of the things I love best about writing...knowing we can change any part of our story that we don't like, including names.

Ten times, Diane! I wonder if that's a record.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Wow. I've read this twice and then soaked up all the comments so far. I'm glad March is a long month, I think we'll have plenty to hash over.

Theresa, I love your notes in the WIP! I remember doing this once, cause I had a place where in my story where it said something like "he says something brilliant--look up brilliant sayings" or some such nonsense :) And boy do I love Dummy books--wish they had one for Regency!

But it took plotting the whole thing to finish this. I've never finished anything by the seat of my pants, I get lost and I get bored.

Thank God for the cut/past function of computers. My scraps folder is over 200 pages now.

For the "what comes next" part I've started to ask myself "Who's got the most to lose?" I'm sure I read that somewhere....

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Diane, I was thinking she must be one powerful character, if she keeps throwing off her name.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Santa said...

I've started off my writing career as a panster and I found that I needed to think things through a little more. The result has been that my WIP has not gotten revised as much as rewritten. The bones are great. The characters I still like (which was not the case a few weeks ago) but it was stilted in places and rushed in others.

I've had to step away from it and look at it from a different angle. I like this angle. This angle works wonderfully.

What am I doing for my second book. I am plotting everything out and feel such a sense of freedom that I never thought I would. Plotting never sounded 'creative' to me but I've learned that's not the case at all.

I'll be back more often this month. It's right up my alley.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I have to concur with Gillian. I am glad this is a long month because plotting sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out. I THOUGHT I had a great plot, a basic arc. I knew where the story started and ended and had a pretty good idea what happened in between. Now I am dealing with the internal conflict, the idea of what each character wants most and what is the one thing they are NOT willing to give up to get it. Then I have to make them give it up. EEEEEK!!! Now I have to go back and work all of that inner conflict into an entire novel seamlessly and cleverly. Am I nuts? Will I be nuts AFTER I finish this? Does any of this make sense?

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

5 tiems huh. cool

kim h

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

You're not nuts, dear. ((hugs))

You're a writer. :)

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Gillian, I thought it was interesting that you get bored if you write as you go. I get bored if I do the opposite. If I plan out my scene before I write it, or talk about it with someone, I no longer feel the need to write it down.

Santa, I started off as a plotter and over the years turned into a panster. Funny how we all do things different. I bet if we took a survey, half of all writers would be plotters and the other half would be pansters. And just as no two people have the same fingerprint, no two writers write a book from Point A to Point B in the same way.

Santa, you're going to be so darn happy when you finish your book, but I wouldn't worry too much about BOTH of your main characters giving up what they love most--all in the name of love. As long as your characters are learning things about themselves along the way, your story will be great.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Get ready to brainstorm tomorrow everyone.

Are you stuck on page 100?

Need help with goals or motivation?

Just check in tomorrow and give us your story basics and let us help you brainstorm!

At 12:12 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hi, Eden, glad you are still checking in with us.

Theresa, perhaps I have exaggerated a bit about the 10 times. It was more like 9.
And, Gillian, she really did throw off her names. But she has the right one now.

Santa, I like being a pantser but this time I'm doing more plotting on this proposal than usual. And sometimes I think our styles change with the book we're writing.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

Theresa and everyone,
I'm mostly a pantser, but my wip has been in progress for 3 years. so I'm bored with my novel, even though my plot is working itself out and the story is getting much better. So I don't find being a pantser very productive, but it is necessary to my world view :)

I write part-time with a little one still at home and I write children's fiction too. Excuses, especially since the manuscript is still not done.
When I sat down to do the plotting for the synopsis to send as a requested partial, the pieces started working better together. That makes me know I need more structure.

And Hi Diane! Diane has told me before (in much more eloquent words than these) to take the time to creatively brainstorm and play around with the story, even if it takes a few months. That way, I have my pantser time and I'm iin facct plotting, but not calling it that takes the weightiness out of the word "plot" while still giving me structure.
Did that make sense?
Thanks a million everyone!

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Theresa, yes, I'm hoping my first draft will be more cohesive at the end.

And mo h, yes, you're probably right. I'm trying to hard to get it "right" that I'm not getting anything at all. When I relax and tell myself to go with the flow--and to not think about the 1001 other things that need to be done in that moment--the juices usually start to flow.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Beach Wedding said...

Destin Beach Weddings Destin is the perfect spot on the beach to read these books.


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