Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 20, 2013 - 4:58pm

I think many would agree that an overall plot can be very hard to work out.  I'm curious what people's strategies are at making it all work from start to finish?  Do you let it end up wherever, do you write start to finish, or pieces with holes that you fill in later?  Do you ever map it all out, and if so, when?  Etc.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel December 20, 2013 - 6:39pm

There is a series on youtube called "Writing About Dragons" by Brandon Sanderson. He's the guy who finished The Wheel of Time series for Robert Jordan when he died. In that lecture series he goes into the different ways in which people create their stories. Some are Architects, meaning they map out the entire work. Others are Discoverers, these are the ones that write and see what happens and where the story takes them. Both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, it seemed that a hybrid between the two styles is best, but of course that is all personal preference. I think architects have really powerful endings, while discoverers have really great character development and twists. 

Me personally, (mind you I'm still a novice and only been writing for around a year, year and a half,) I like a hybrid approach. I start with one sentence that explains my entire work. Until I come up with that one sentence I don't start writing. Once I have that, I plot out some things that I feel would be necessary to the work. Plot, character, setting, develop the conflicts between all three, and then roughly how it should go. But I only plot out one or two sections at a time. I like to discover as much as plan out. This allows me wiggle room and keeps me focused. 

Hope that helps some. But definitely check out the youtube series. It is really helpful. While it's geared for sci/fi, I think it is useful for writers in general.

Mahalo.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers December 20, 2013 - 10:20pm

There's also another Youtube video, which I'm too lazy to link as I've got too much other shit to do, but this video features Matt Stone and Trey Parker talking to freshman at a film school. Unlikely source, profound lesson. Here's the gist of the lecture: Every story has beats, which are the things that happen. John rode his bike. He talked to Mike. So on. The one thing you do not want is: John rode his bike, 'and then' he talked to Mike, 'and then'...

Instead of 'and then', you want 'but' or 'therefore' between each beat. 'And then' is just a string of undynamic events. You will have some 'and then' moments, which, if you think about it, is really just one long beat.

John rode his bike to Mike's to talk BUT Mike was already at school. THEREFORE Mike was probably already blabbing his mouth about John BUT there was no way for John to know for sure, Therefore John decides to talk to the principle himself, But Mike already blabbed....  

Using the But/Therefore forces a decision dynamic. It's so simple, yet it works. The reader never sees this, but if it's not there in the plot, they'll know it real quick. 

 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore December 21, 2013 - 7:02am

Sometimes I read books (especially by young writers) where I can tell they were finding the story as they went along, and I resent enduring that process with them. It can work in nonfiction or creative nonfiction—documentary or memoir-style—but I'm talking novels here. It's a legitimate writing process, but often they're unwilling or too proud to rework it during editorial. Me, I want to be manipulated by the master magician, ya know? Setting up that ma-fuckin' prestige. If I'm reading 300 pages, I don't want jazzy improv, I want the symphony.

I outline more than most. Detailed character histories, timelines, geographies, etc. Then I'll usually write down around three big-picture beats for each chapter on a digital note card in advance of writing any prose, to make sure the overall story works. It's also common for me to outline the first half and know the ending, but not the details of the second act yet. As long as I know the ending, I can play more loosely with finding that rising action later. Then when starting to write each chapter, I'll work out another eight or ten smaller points in a notes palette, not all of which are plot, just things I need to convey. Then comes the enjoyable part of actually writing and connecting the dots. Most of my revisions are at the line and scene level, not chapter. I'll often later break scenes up into smaller sections and crosscut between those subplots for more excitement. That's probably the biggest structural revision, which really isn't much.

Crafting effective stories is hard work; writing the prose is fun. Many would argue the opposite.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 21, 2013 - 7:34am

I tend to seperate my work in four parts, with each part further seperated into acts 1-3. This way it smooths out whatever plot beats I find that don't come off as particularly natural. (If I can see the beat thats being applied, and it sticks out because it feels unnatural, I remove in further drafts.)

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb December 21, 2013 - 9:01am

Sometimes I read books (especially by young writers) where I can tell they were finding the story as they went along, and I resent enduring that process with them. It can work in nonfiction or creative nonfiction—documentary or memoir-style—but I'm talking novels here. It's a legitimate writing process, but often they're unwilling or too proud to rework it during editorial. Me, I want to be manipulated by the master magician, ya know? Setting up that ma-fuckin' prestige. If I'm reading 300 pages, I don't want jazzy improv, I want the symphony.

I like what Gordon says here, so I'm going to run with the same analogy to explain how I do novel writing.

My first draft is all about the jazzy improv. I guess I'm like any band that ever went into the studio, recorded some imrpov, and then lifted the best bits out of it to make the songs, then the combination of songs becomes the album. Second draft is when I try the best bits out. I don't usually finish my second draft, because I find out what works and what doesn't during the process and I know what 3 is going to look like before the end of 2. 2 is also where I workshop excerpts, just as a check that I might be on to something. Then I go for draft three, and by that time I do have a clear outline in my head of how the plot works and what story I want to tell, but I don't map it out on paper. I still like that element of surprise, of a new idea or two that I might try out. More improv, only on draft three I edit as I go - I can usually tell if something's worked without the need for distance. Draft four is a cleaned up and edited version of three.

That's what I've been doing lately, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through Draft 3. I only find myself writing out plot when I realise something's gone wrong. I hit a problem recently and managed to solve it just by writing a brainstorm for what I might change/delete, and I saved that motherfucker. Thank god, as I'm already 150,000 words in. Yeah, I get longer wordcounts because I improvise a lot, then I cut things down later to get that refined symphony GH talks about.

Cath Murphy recently said in http://litreactor.com/columns/dont-you-dare-stop-5-bullshit-reasons-for-giving-up-on-nanowrimo: 'Some writers claim to be able to concoct a story without the help of an outline, but those same people probably also think that navigating the Alaska wilderness equipped with a dowsing rod and half a Granola bar would make a fun vacation.'

Yeah, I'm that guy. But by the time I'm packing for the 3rd holiday I'm actually bothering with the cold weather gear, the map, compass and all the rest, and I'm telling people where my trek is going to end up and when.

Sound's picture
Sound from Azusa, CA is reading Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt December 21, 2013 - 9:34am

@Bob: Holy hell, that makes so much sence and yet it's so simple!!

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers December 21, 2013 - 10:45am
Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne December 21, 2013 - 11:16am

I find most heavily plotted work to be boring. With many writers you can see that everything was set up to reveal or instigate something else. I prefer to see where things take me. As Gordon says, this requires you to be willing to rework things, but there's a natural feel you don't get when you script everything. A combination of the two approaches is likely best. You should have some idea where the story is going, but I think it pays not to have an exact idea of how it's going to get there. Be willing to change, let your characters talk themselves out of your assumptions.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs December 21, 2013 - 3:43pm

I outline beforehand. If you feel outlining makes the actual writing boring, try making outlines that are very sparse. A sentence or two per scene.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers December 21, 2013 - 4:10pm

Another trick with outlining that I'm really working hard on learning is outlining just the dynamic decisions. Instead of:

John went to Mike's...

Mike went to school before John arrived...

John talked to the principle...

Mike hits John. 

Try:

John needs to stop Mike from telling everyone what he said. Mike is a blabbermouth. Mike is already at school. John decides to twist the truth and use the principal for support. Mike confronts John with the principal, hits John for lying, etc. 

These are the important points. These are the beats that need to be expanded into scenes. Just outline the reasons for the scenes, and you'll find that the writing is not as boring.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons December 22, 2013 - 8:13am

Great thread! As a discoverer, I am trying to do a little more outlining. The advice in the thread has been interesting and helpful. 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore December 22, 2013 - 3:27pm

Try:
John needs to stop Mike from telling everyone what he said. Mike is a blabbermouth. Mike is already at school. John decides to twist the truth and use the principal for support. Mike confronts John with the principal, hits John for lying, etc.

Yes, this. The motivations and tension points and power-shifts.

Alan H Jordan's picture
Alan H Jordan from Reno, Nevada is reading "The Whisper Jar" and "The World Beneath" December 25, 2013 - 8:34pm

The attached is something that I call a Scene Builder. I'm playing around with the concept, and I'd like your opinions. It's based on what I do when I write a speech to deliver.  I write down the main points that I want to cover, then indicate the gestures that I want to use and finally add in how I want to vary the patterns of speech. 

 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 26, 2013 - 6:52am

I've found that having a new outline (about every new draft) also works fairly well. This doesn't have to be 150 page outline, it just needs to be about 10 pages summarizing the plot.

I got to around the first 10K of my nano project, before things sort of lost direction. Which was a bit of a throw back to my Contemporary Dark Fantasy.

So I've taken to outlining sense.

thatbillguy's picture
thatbillguy from Louisiana is reading Various short stories January 5, 2014 - 9:10am

I write on my ipad and I use a program called SimpleMind... It's a mind mapping software for organizing thoughts.  It's a lot faster and more efficient than outlining (in my opinion). You can drag ideas around to reorder scenes and ideas. You can export it to various formats, add images and print the map to use as a storyboard.  

DId I mention it's free. It is. Free.  :)

Comes in Android, iOS, Windows and MacOS versions. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami January 5, 2014 - 12:52pm

In my middle grade project, I started only outlining plot snags, but pantsing everything else. I do have a plot, but look at that less than the plot snags.