This week’s QOTW comes from Alexandra Axellson who asks:
When you’re writing, how do you plot out how your story will be written? Do you come up with things as you go or write down everything in a list or plot list?
I’m a fly by the seat of my pants sort of person. It’s more fun for me to discover the story as I go. There’ve been projects where I wasn’t even sure how I wanted it to end until I got there. There’s a saying that “writing a book is like driving a car at night– you can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” And that’s me– when I’m writing, I only know as far as the chapter or two I’m working on, but eventually it becomes a whole book.
Of course, the “business” side of writing has changed that quite a bit. Now a days, I get to sell books on proposal, and then write them under contract. That means I have to know up front where I’m going so that I can submit the book as a partial (50-100 pages) and synopsis (5 pages detailing the beginning, middle, and end to my story.). So I guess I’ve learned to brainstorm the projects in advance, but if I had it my way, I’d just sit down and write, write, write, until I figured out how it would unfold.
Although, either way, I do like to brainstorm the next scene as I fall asleep at night. It makes it easier for the words to flow as soon as I sit down the next day.
My plotting is a bit haphazard, which works sometimes and doesn’t others. At the beginning I always try to be organized about it–I outline, create character profiles, keep a list of dialogue/descriptions I want to include, etc–but eventually I wind up getting really disorganized. The happy medium I’ve found is writing what would look like a Sparknotes summary for my chapters: a few paragraphs explaining the main events. “X then goes back home, only to find his wife cheating on him, and lashes out in a rage. In his anger, he kills the family dog and flees the home when his wife dials the police,” for a rather short example. In fact, this is how I outlined one of my fanfics back in the day, but sadly I lost the book I kept the plans in, which was extremely frustrating since they were so detailed. (This is where the new program we linked to in our mash-up, “Evernote” should hopefully come in handy!)
I write out the events exactly as you would see on Sparknotes, in dry paragraphs that are mostly just explanations of the action. Occasionally, I’ll add in something specific if I don’t want to forget it, like a great piece of dialogue.
This planning only works for so long, though, before I get tired of it. Eventually I get too impatient to start writing, bullet point a few major events, and get started; unlike some of the other girls here on LTWF, not knowing where I’m going is more exciting than hindering to me, though it makes writing good endings a bit tough.
I think I’m a bit of a weirdo when it comes to planning out my stories. Usually, after I get the initial spark of inspiration, I figure out two things: the beginning and the end. Once I know those things, I’ll plan a little bit, but then I’ll just let the story take me where it wants to go (while herding it towards that ending). However, I try to figure out the details of my characters and world before I begin writing, though I always leave some room for new stuff, and always remind myself to be flexible.
Until QUEEN OF GLASS sold, I never outlined–for some reason, it seemed like it would kill the surprise of a writing story. But the circumstances under which my book sold required me to produce a fairly detailed outline to my editor, and I quickly changed my tune. My outline was SO useful–not just in keeping track of what I needed to accomplish in every scene/chapter, but also in getting through the manuscript quickly and efficiently. It really makes the writing process much smoother.
Of all the LTWF contributors, I am probably the most obsessed with outlining. Before I begin my first draft, I create a skeleton of the story that consists of a breakdown of each chapter made up mainly of bullet points. I may also include bits of dialogue or some description.
Like Sarah, it’s important to me that I know my “world” before I begin to write. Even before the outline stage, I create characters and setting. If the setting requires a fictional history, I’ll work that up as well. These character studies and histories become something resembling miniature essays. It’s surprising how, once I’ve gone through this creative process, the story seems to come to life on its own. The outline is easy to write once I know all the background. I just throw obstacles at the characters and they react, and before I know it, the outline is written.
Having an outline also helps a lot when it’s time to begin a new chapter and I can’t get started. When that happens, I just copy and paste the bullet points from the outline and begin fleshing things out from there. It puts words on the page, and sometimes that’s all I need to kick-start a chapter.
I tend to not really do much plotting, believe it or not. I write as I go. So long as I have something to work from, be it a character who pretty much demands to be written, or a place I can clearly visualize in my mind, and a rough sense of where the story might go, I’ll just start writing. Sure, I take a while to let it sit in my head before beginning; but I could never sit down and plot out my story. For me, it makes everything feel more forced. Sometimes, I don’t even know where I’m going with the story! I just write as I go, and end up surprising myself! Of course, this also means I end up having to revise a lot afterwards, but it’s just the way my brain works. It likes to keep secrets even from me! But it certainly makes the writing process extremely exciting.
When I’m writing something new I tend to know the beginning and the ending. I liked to also have a few scenes in the middle though I’m not always sure where they fit. I don’t do much by way of outlining, and when I do outline it tends to be more a list of important events in order so that I know who to move towards. I like being surprised when I write and coming up with new situations as I go. This tends to lead to long and sometimes meandering plots that have to be heavily edited to get them in order, but it’s a fun way to write. They way I write it still evolving so I’m trying to be better about outlining, which lets me cut superfluous scenes before I take the time to write them. This isn’t to say I make up my world as I go, I have maps, a sense of history, and which real and fantastic animals inhabit certain regions (I had to do some research on desert species before writing PRISCILLA even though they don’t get much mention in the book). If I know where I am and who I’m dealing with the story tends to fall into place.
I kind of plan… I always have a general idea of where I want the story to go, and I always have an ending in mind. I’ll think of certain events I’m sure I want to have happen, and sometimes the order of the events changes, but I’ve never been able to plan from start to finish.
But, I do start planning when I’m well into whatever I’m writing; usually something like a third of the way through. By then I’ll have a clear vision of exactly what I want and the idea will have been explored, the characters fleshed out, and the plot probably radically different than what I initially imagined. I’ll plan the rest just to organize my thoughts and (try to) get rid of any plot holes.
It works for me. Even though the plot ends up different, it’s always better than what it used to be, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I need as much spontaneity as organization, the latter so that I don’t end up screwing myself over with multiple gaps, and the former to keep myself from getting bored with the project.
I don’t like writing a story without knowing where I’m going. That’s why for my first and second book I outlined the major points in each chapter. I haven’t gotten far with my second book so I can’t say much about it. But for my first book outlining helped me a lot. I would plan out the major points in each chapter and add or omit certain points as I went along. Of course, looking back on that outline, I haven’t followed it at all. However, it was like a map to me, telling me in what direction I should go to get to the major scenes. Also, another reason why I like to outline, is that outlining helps me view my story in a more objective manner. I can keep a better track of the story’s pacing and the character’s development.
For my first five books I wrote as it came to me. I could always tell when an idea would ‘stick’ because it felt different… more real in my head. Then things would happen in my life that could instantly link to my story and it felt like magic. Writing that way was purely magical.
But, it can also be slow, fraught with distractions, and detours. For my sixth book, A Clear and Beautiful Lie, which I stared after a 2-year hiatus of not really working on anything, I decided to try this outlining business. And I loved it! I really wrote more of a synopsis, and right now that’s with my agent waiting on approval. I’m enjoying having it so far because now I don’t have to wonder and worry where I’m headed; I can just enjoy the journey. There are still enough gaps in the story that I’ll fill in when I get there, so its not like a synopsis took all the fun out of it. 😉
How do YOU plot out your story?