Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seat-of-the-Pants V. Plotster?

Generally, writers fall into two camps: those who plot every detail before writing the book, and those who write by the seat-of-their-pants, never knowing how the story will unfold until events happen to the characters.

Plotsters may start with a single concept, building on an idea until they know everything that will happen in each scene and chapter.

Good resources:
Randy Ingermanson's website for the Snowflake Method
First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Weisner

Authors may answer dozens--even hundreds--of questions to create elaborate character sketches, so they know every detail about each person in the book.

Books with Questionaires:
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman
Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon

You’d think that every writer of suspense or mystery would be a plotster. Most are. They have to know who is the killer, who are the suspects, which red herrings to plant as false clues. But that’s not always the case. Some actually write by the seat-of-their-pants and don’t know who the killer is at the start of the novel. I’ve heard of novelists who think they know, only the killer changes as the story develops.

Writing by the seat-of-the-pants takes just as much thought as it does for someone who plots first. It’s just that the thinking is done in discovery as the story is written, rather than before. Unfortunately, it sometimes means unnecessary blind alleys and dead ends.

I wish I’d think of a high concept story, then plot in rich, glorious detail before I started writing. But my mind’s not wired that way. When I’ve tried to plot, I put myself into a box and all my creativity fled. So I’ll stick with what works, Creating memorable, three-dimensional characters. Using the following books:

Books to develop characters:
Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon
The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Cowden, LaFever and Viders.

Without serious plotting, I know that I’m doomed to rewrite. But each time I rewrite a scene, I get closer to the book I’d have written if I’d planned it that way.

It takes a lot of thought to plot before writing. But I wouldn’t know the characters, so I wouldn’t think of how they’d react in a given situation. From the start, I knew Stephanie didn’t want to marry Sam, but why not? Hadn’t I created a wonderful hero just for her? I had to work with her for a while to know why. I knew Drew had injured his ankle, but I didn’t know how until he jumped off a balcony. An emergency room visit, then the accident?

Yeah, not only do I write by the seat-of-my-pants, I don’t even write scenes in order. I write whatever scene I can picture most vividly in my mind. For my current wip (work-in-progress), I wrote the ending about three months into what’s turned into a five-year project. I needed to write the destination, so I’d know where my characters were heading. I’ve actually met several authors—some are even successful—who create through this fashion.

In the end, it’s the final manuscript that matters, not the process used to create it. Do you plot first or write by the seat of your pants?

~Roxanne Sherwood~

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