Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Plotting, you say?

18 Comments

For some reason, when I see the word “plotting”, my mind conjures up an image of a stereotypical bad guy from black and white silent films. You know, the one with the handlebar moustache and wringing hands, along with the “mwahahahahaha”.
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But when I think about plotting, it’s different. It’s a concept, the idea of a path through a story where stuff happens. Not an outline, because that seems too rigid. Of course, when I think of “outline”, I think of those reports we used to do back in school. You remember the ones: Roman numerals, paragraph topics, supporting facts, 3 x 5 inch index cards, and sources. Always had to have at least three sources (and there was no Wikipedia or Internet at the time). Back then, we had to go to the library and do our research.

I know, ancient history!

When I started preparing for my very first NaNoWriMo, I decided to write a completely new story, and not just rehash the one I had been working on up to that point. I found a great book by Karen Wiesner: First Draft in 30 Days. She has a set of worksheets she uses to put together a story, including character sketches, setting notes, timelines, fact sheets, and plot sketches. In essence, a book bible.

I created a OneNote template that had tabs for each worksheet, and they guided me through that first NaNo draft. The parts that really helped me put the story together, though, were the summary outline and the miscellaneous scene notes. Basically, a free-form exercise to walk through this is what happens, this happens next, then this, etc. There are also timeline sheets to help work out the order of events.

I ended up with a story I didn’t expect, but I enjoyed writing it. Didn’t finish it, but that’s on my list; I know how it ends, I just have to write it.

Fast-forward to now. I still use those worksheets, but I have learned that one of the best ways for me to walk through a story and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work is to write a stream-of-consciousness summary of the story from beginning to end. By hand.

Should I call it plotting? I suppose it is, but it feels more fluid than “plotting”, yet more planned than “pantsing”. *scans the room to make sure the Muse isn’t giving me a stink-eye* I’ve been struggling with the plot for book 2, so I have been doing this process repeatedly, trying to nail down just what wasn’t working.

One of the keys, I learned, is asking “what if” questions when I run into something that doesn’t feel right to me. Initially the story opened with two characters dead–one of natural causes, the other of an unfortunate hunting “accident”. It didn’t feel right. Then I had three characters die. Nope, so back to two characters, but one that started dead in an earlier draft was now alive and another dead instead.

Better, but it still didn’t feel right. Still, I ran with it, did NaNo with that premise, and spent December writing yet another SOC plot summary. Multiple plot summaries.

And I asked, “what if”? What if there was only one dead character? What if he had the hobby the other once-dead character had? What if that airplane he was rebuilding lived in a hangar at the airport instead of a shed in the backyard? The nefarious stuff is happening at the airport, and he would be there anyway to spy–er, casually notice the goings-on, and doesn’t need an excuse to go there.

Click.

I’ve got it now. There are still a few things to work out, but once the routine is back in place after the kids are back at college and all that extraneous energy is dissipated, I’m eager to start the heavy revisions. Or maybe yet another rough draft. In any case, I feel better about this version of the story than any of the earlier ones.

Finally.

Hope your new year is starting out well. Lots of writing and all that!

And by special request (yes, B, I remembered πŸ˜€ )

zoey

Happy Writing!

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Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", will be released in March, 2019, by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, three chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

18 thoughts on “Plotting, you say?

  1. I like the idea of having some plan, whether it’s an outline, a stream-of-consciousness summary, or something else, for what a story will be like. You can always change things, add/subtract things, and so on. It doesn’t have to be written in stone. But a plan helps keep the writer’s (and the story’s) focus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, Margot! I like having some idea of the big picture, and I often spend weeks mulling about it before I even start a SOC summary. Having some inkling about the story helps guide the writer at least a little, rather than flailing about. Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are wonderful, Julie. I have to start Book 3 in my trilogy soon and have no idea what to do. You’ve given me a starting point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s funny to me how handwriting is more conducive to that original burst of creativity. I also do a handwritten SOC of the story when beginning a new book, Julie. Always before it goes through various levels of solidification into an outline on the laptop. I like the word plotting too, including its dastardly connotations – for aren’t we supposed to make our characters’ lives miserable. Ha ha. It sounds like you’re making headway! I hope things calm down soon and you get plenty of writing time in before it’s time to plant. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so agree! I tried to do a SOC outline on the computer, which works fine, but I always feel the longhand writing encourages more of the creative energy somehow. Dasterdly! That’s another one of those words πŸ™‚ Son is heading back to school tonight with his girlfriend, and I’m bringing my daughter back to school tomorrow. Whew! It’s nice when they’re home, but also nice to have a bigger house and a more consistent routine when they’re gone.

      OMG. Planting. And I’ve been saving up those seed catalogs I’m getting in the mail. Might have to take an evening and peruse πŸ™‚

      Have a wonderful weekend, Diana!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. HAHAHAHA! I was going along, thinking, “Uum, excuse me? Where…? Ah! There she is. Phew. Close one, Julie Holmes!” XOXO πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  5. P.S. Joe just pointed at Zoey and said, “Kitty! Kitty!” #approval

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like having it plotted out, but sometimes I get stuck too. The what ifs sure help, but when its right you know it. I’ve been in that stuck point for a while then was like bam last week..not only were ideas flowing but I started a few more stories. Unfortunately it always hits in the middle of the night:) Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds just like the past two years and my wall head-banging for Book 2. It’s weird sometimes how it happens, that sudden click that tells you it’ll work. I haven’t had many bursts of inspiration at night; mine usually come during walks, or lunch πŸ™‚

      Enjoy your weekend, Denise!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I wish I could find a book that would be nothing but worksheets I could use. Maybe I could check into this one. Of all the craft book and worksheets I’ve looked into, I still can’t find any that work. Your post inspires me to keep trying.

    Congrats on making progress and working out the problems in your WIP. That has to be a giddy feeling. I’m starting to get a whisper of that as I contemplate a new project. It’s time to start thinking of one and that’s always fun.

    Hugs to Zoey. She is such a charmer πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you like, I can send you the OneNote notebook “template” I made of the worksheets in the book. May help, may not, but it’s another option.

      Wait, another project?! Between you and Diana and Staci, there are words flying all over the place! I can’t wait to dig in to my WIP, now that the kids are back at college (less distractions, or at least that’s the theory. Still have hubs to contend with πŸ™‚ )

      Aww, I’ll let her know. Hi to Raven!

      Have a great week!

      Like

  8. I have that book, too! I found some parts more useful than others, but I just kind of adapted ideas into my own process and never actually used her worksheets. I have to say, though, it would take me months longer to write a book without a plan. I have no idea how people manage without one.

    Love the cat pic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree; some parts of the book are far more useful, but some of the worksheets have given me some ideas for my own process. I agree with you about a plan! Way back when, I would plan the story out in my head, but it sure helps to write things out.

      Have a wonderful week!

      Liked by 1 person

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