Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Plot Until You Plotz


If there is one thing that I am hesitant to do on this blog, it’s give writing advice.  Well, that and talk politics, but that’s only because I’m sure most of you probably do not share my support of the Righteous and Judicial Brainslugs of the Planet Gorbolactinatikus 12 (May their slime trails never dry, may their squishy bodies remain salt free).

Anyway, one thing that I notice is that a lot of blogs by unpublished writers feature writing advice.  I have several friends’ whose blogs feature articles of the same sort.  They’re great articles, and I admire them for it.  However, until I complete a first draft of a novel, I don’t feel that I have any expertise on the subject.  If I were to give advice…that’d be like giving advice on how to build a computer.  I know a few of the parts and how they work, but until I’ve put at least one together, it’s all just theory.*

[I want to update and mention that this is not aimed at anyone in particular and if you are one who posts writing advice, sweet!  Spread that love around!  I certainly need the help.  This is more about me still being too green to have anything really to share of interest.]

I don’t want to look like a fool by proclaiming something on this site in Big Bold Letters only to have that Brilliant Idea flounder and fail like the current fad diet most assuredly will.**

[Now watch as I completely go against my own advice to explore and offer advice on a subject.]

One thing that I think I’m comfortable doing is sharing revelations and/or ideas that strike me as interesting.  For example, today I’m going to talk about Plotting.  I know there’s a debate that will forever rage among writers whether pantsing*** or plotting is the preferred method for finishing a novel.  I waffle back and forth on what I’m doing.  For the most part, all of my short stories have been completed with no outline.  I know roughly where I want them to go and I go back and revise and redraft where needed to make the ending fit with the beginning.  As for novels, neither method has worked for me.

With that said, there is one thing I’ve noticed.  Before, when I tried to plot, I would just list one sentence summaries of scenes I thought would be important. 

But, surely you realize that’s what plotting basically is, right?

Well, yeah, sure.  And what have I told you about interrupting?  Anyway, one thing that should have been obvious but I didn’t really think about until I was sitting down and daydreaming was how each plot, no matter the genre, is a mystery story.  Think about it.  Almost every single story starts the character in one place and then, through a series of revelations in which the character figures something out, they arrive at point B at the end of the book, usually changed for the better. 

Some novels don’t fit that, sure, but most do.  Every Harry Potter fits this.  Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce did.  John Green’s Paper Towns did.  Even if they’re not solving some sort of supernatural element or intentionally playing with the mystery structure—like Paper Towns did, then they are trying to figure something out.  Why is this person mad at me?  What did that person mean when they said this?  What did I do to deserve this?  Even David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy fits this arc of mini-mysteries that lead the characters to self enlightenment.

I realize that this may seem like common sense.  Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake.****  But it’s something I’ve been trying to keep in mind.  If you’re plotting and things feel a little stale, maybe there’s nothing for your characters to figure out.  I’ve realized that I can reveal a lot more about my characters by how they think things through than I can with them just reacting to one thing after another.

How about it?  Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?  Do you have little mini-mysteries?  Any helpful tips?  Tired of me asking questions and you just want to tell me to shut up and leave you alone?  That’s what the comments are for!  Fill us in!

*For example, I know the motherboard is sort of a surfboard for mommies and that’s how you surf the ‘Net, but how they fit a whole surfboard into a computer case is beyond me.

**I will mention this amazing diet that I’ve been on for the past few months.  It’s a simple blended drink diet that you have three times a day in lieu of basic meals.  All you need are pineapples, oranges, apples, bananas, celery stalks, nails, screws, picture frames, nail polish remover, Elmer’s Glue…wait…I think my grocery list bled through onto my diet recipe…

***Writing “by the seat of your pants.”  NOT to be confused with that thing you did with your buddies in gym class, you sillies.

****Over the years I’ve learned that I am very, very thick.  I only just recently learned all of the lyrics to “Sugar, We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy.  I had a line mistaken for years.


  1. You said: "One thing that I think I’m comfortable doing is sharing revelations and/or ideas that strike me as interesting."

    Honestly, that's mostly what I do on my blog too. I certainly don't think I have all the answers. :) Great post!

  2. I love your articles! They're very inspirational. I personally just feel sort of green still.

  3. I feel the same way! And, yet, when someone asked for advice, boy, did I ever have a lot to say.

    I HAVE to finish at least one book and get it published before I can really start laying on the unsolicited advice, though. I even have an idea for a book for writers someday, but have an age limit and published book limit before I can even think of typing it up.

    Still, it's so hard to resist. What else does a person want to talk about but what they spend their time doing? I spend my time writing (or, at least, I try to spend my time writing), and that's what I most want to talk about.

    Thanks for the great post and I hope you have a fabulous day! Talk to you later.


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