No Plotters Allowed

on May 17, 2007

I have several workshops I’ve developed, but hands down my favorite is NO PLOTTERS ALLOWED. Okay, I love the title. It says it all, doesn’t it?

The workshop is for everyone. It’s subtitled: Solutions to writer’s block for those who can’t, won’t or don’t plot. But that doesn’t mean that plotters can’t benefit from some of the ideas.

Last week I talked about the War of Art and how I’m incorporating some of Pressfield’s ideas into my workshop. This week I thought, based on Toni’s comment on Nat’s Tuesday blog, I’d talk about PLOTTING.

Everyone plots. It’s just, do you plot in advance or as you go? I plot as I go. Some people will call this “pantsing” which I hate. I like the idea of “organic writing” which essentially means that you write intuitively.

One thing I hate about any discussion on plotting is that everyone is emphatic about THEIR method. Because I have no method, I’m not emphatic about it 🙂 I’ve been told that I “must” plot because I write suspense. Even in the workshop I gave at RT last month, one of the other panel members said to the audience, “We (meaning everyone on the panel) know what the ending is, so we just have to figure out to get there.” Not so fast, I said. I don’t know what the ending is. Except, of course, that the bad guy gets what’s coming to him, and the hero and heroine survive and are together by the end of the book.

The truth is, EVERYONE needs to find their own method. This is why I love when people share on loops how they do it, because that MIGHT be the right way for you. There are two things that I know:

1) There IS a right way for you
2) Sometimes we have to try everything to discover the best way for us.

What I don’t love is when people say, “This is the best way.” No, it’s not. It’s the best way FOR THEM. It MIGHT be the best way for you. It might not. If you’re stuck, there’s nothing wrong with trying other people’s methods. I mean, you’re stuck, right? And you want to get unstuck, right? So try everything you can.

I credit NYT bestselling author James Rollins with a great editing method that works for him, and also works for me. Modified, of course, to fit my schedule and habits.

Jim spoke to my RWA chapter in September of 05, right before THE PREY came out. He said that he writes ten pages a day. Then he prints those pages out and edits them on hard copy in the evening. The next day, he makes the changes in the computer, that gets him back into the story, and then he writes another ten pages. Repeat.

I never thought I’d be able to do that, but I filed it away in the back of my head. Thing is, when I was on a really tight deadline, I needed to do something to edit as I went. In the past, I dumped out the story, printed it, spent a lot of time on the hard copy, then made the changes in the computer, inevitably making more changes than I’d written on paper. But I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time to sit on the story for a week or two. So I adapted Jim’s method. Instead of editing at night, the next morning I would sit down and re-read what I’d written the day before, editing it on the computer. Not only would it clean up the chapter, it would get me back into the story. I’d then write, write, write. The next time I sat down at the computer (sometimes later than night, sometimes the next day) I’d edit what I wrote before, then write, write, write.

It worked. I was more productive and my first draft was, in essence, my final draft.

So for plotting, when you’re stuck don’t be afraid to try something new. This may mean a different plotting method, or not plotting at all, or modifying something that sounds like it would be good for you in a way to fit your lifestyle.

For me, I plot as I go. I start the book when I can see the opening scene and know at least one of the characters. I think a book to death sometimes. I talk to myself. A lot. I play the what if game.

I remember when I started writing SPEAK NO EVIL I was having a really hard time with that first chapter. I had a good picture of Carina Kincaid, my heroine, but I didn’t know the victim, I didn’t know her partner, and I just couldn’t get that opening scene written. I moved the body around. She was clothed, then naked, then in a garbage bag. I killed Angie in many ways, moved her body from place to place–first in the hills behind some fancy homes, then in the middle of the desert, then on the beach. The beach worked. But it wasn’t until I put her with Will Hooper, her partner, that everything sort of clicked. Because I had Will to play off of, I learned more about her character and everyone else as a result.

I’m not afraid to cut. Delete is my friend. Slash and burn if I have to in order to get the story out and stay true to my characters.

For me, the what if game works. I don’t know the ending–I’m halfway done with KILLING FEAR and I have no idea how the story is going to come together. I just introduced a wrench into the story, something I hadn’t planned on (well, I didn’t plan on a lot of things that are in this story!) and I’m wondering how it’s all going to play out.

What also works, for me, is if I’m on a roll and I have to quit writing, I write one or two sentences about the next scene. Like last night, I went out to the brewery. I had a very productive writing morning-22 pages–and I wrote 16 pages that night. I could have staying in the bar for hours, but they were closing. I wrote the first line to the next THREE SCENES. Incredible, for me. I would have written them all if I could. Then this morning, I wrote one, and that spurred another, and another, and now I’m not writing two of the three scenes I THOUGHT I was going to write, just because the story veered off in another direction.

This works FOR ME. It might not work FOR YOU. But if you’re stuck, try it.

Some questions to ask yourself:

Would your character DO IT? Would she SAY IT? Would he THINK IT? Are you in character at all times? If they are in jeopardy, do they have a death wish? If not, they’re going to be smart and do everything they can to protect themselves and what’s theirs, right? Don’t make it easy for the killer–or for yourself.

Yeah, sometimes I write myself into a road block. It happens. Shake it off. Backspace. Over a couple chapters if you have to. (Or cut and paste them into another file just in case you want them back!)

One thing Stephen King said in his book ON WRITING that really stuck with me. To paraphrase, “If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, chances are my readers won’t. If I’m surprised, they’ll hopefully be surprised.”

Words to live by. At least for me. What about you? Share your method and maybe you’ll help someone discover theirs.