Michille: Plotting

Blank Index Cards

I am trying to plot out the remainder of the book I started last year. For my previous manuscripts, I was more of a pantser than I have been on this one. That worked fine for the first two, but my current WIP is based on an older story so the parts that I have down follow that. And now it is dragging on and on. I know one problem with writing is a result of the Romance Writing Masters Certificate program. It was so craft intensive that I let myself get bogged down when writing with all that craft instead of just getting words on the page and crafting later. For example, I find myself getting bogged down with craft before and during writing sessions when I realize the scene I am writing is missing something important. And this long stretch of writing one manuscript has the characters featured in the next one banging on my brain and screaming to get out.

Jennifer Crusie posted a “Questionable” on her blog some time ago about Turning an Idea Into a Plot. She calls writing by the seat of your pants (the pantser) ‘Discovery’ and plotting (plotter) ‘outlining’. Here is how Jenny said to outline:

  • Figure out who your protagonist is, what she wants and why she can’t get it. Sarah wants to convert her great aunt’s house into a home for young pregnant girls/women because, as a former public defender, she has seen the fallout when these girls don’t have any support but there are a couple of zoning laws blocking the rehab.
  • Figure out who your antagonist is and what he wants. The nameless antagonist, for now I’ll call him Finch, is the lawyer for the small town in which the house sits and he is upholding the laws and not allowing for either an exception or special use permit, with good reasons.
  • Figure out how what the protagonist wants and what the antagonist wants are in direct conflict (conflict lock). Yep – that’s a lock.
  • Start writing. I wrote a lot of it, now I just have to finish.

The first thing is note cards. I really liked this idea because it was how I was taught to write way back in high school in Advanced Grammar and Expository Writing. We notecarded entire term papers and it was the easiest process and I generally aced my term papers in college because of it. For the first time, I am also going to try four POV characters. I usually only have two but I’m trying for an important subplot that mirrors the main plot so I need the additional POVs. I am going to start with index cards in four different colors. Figuring out how many cards I’ll need requires airhooking some numbers. For a full-length story I’d go with 100,000 word story/2,000 word scenes = 50 scenes (more than half are written so I won’t have that many cards). But to continue with the full-length numbers, the bulk of my stories have the two main characters, so I’d give them 1/3 each, or 16 scenes each (with some leftovers), and 8 scenes each (with some leftovers) for the minor characters. I’m not worried about the 4,000 words/2 scenes leftovers because if this works, I’m sure those leftovers will be absorbed in the story somewhere. Each notecard will get the name of the protagonist, antagonist, scene conflict, who ‘wins’, and how has each character changed (+/-) by the end of the scene.

The second part of my plotting will be the structure. The story is already a hero’s journey, but I’m going to layer Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat format over it. Snyder’s Beat Sheet is designed for screenwriting, but I’m going to use it as a guide to pacing. There are some great breakdowns of movies on his website.

My goal for using the plotting method, instead of my old pantser method, is to get the ideas out of my head and down on paper (so Sarah and Finch stop beating my brain) so I can move on to Finch’s college friend’s story.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

7 thoughts on “Michille: Plotting

  1. I can plot, but when I actually write, Something Better Comes Up, and I tend to follow that instead of the pre-plotted plot. So, I guess that makes me a pantser. Revision is totally going to be plotted, though.

    I’m really interested in your POV issues. I’ve never told a story from two POVs, but I think I’m going to have to do it with this one, and it’s making me really scared to start. I’m just going to have to think of it as a writing exercise, I guess, and get words on the paper, then weed out what doesn’t work.

    Four sounds like an amazing achievement. One of my favorite books has something like five POVs, and a cast of dozens and dozens. I like all the layering and textures that can be brought into a book like that.

    • I think the hardest thing about multiple POVs is differentiating the characters. I remember when we read Gaffney’s Saving Graces, all four POVs sounded the same, as in they could have been the same character, but they all were different ages, had different backgrounds and outlooks and they should have sounded different. One thing I do is have my husband read the sections that are in the man’s POV. He’ll correct my word choices: “A guy would never say never” or “A guy would say it but he would think this word instead.” It helps.

  2. I’ve usually started books knowing the beginning and the ending but nothing in between, and figuring out the middle has always been a huge struggle. For the current WIP, I decided I could make much better progress if I outlined. So I outlined the turning points for my plot and subplots and wrote in whatever else I could think of to support those turning points and started in. I’m making miserable progress. I’ve lost track of who my antagonist is. I don’t remember (or ever knew) my protagonist’s goal. The story has no flow whatsoever. I’m only 40K words in, and I hate the whole thing. I’m wondering if this isn’t partially the fault of trying to write a series: I have no real place for these characters to go, so maybe it isn’t about outlining or not. Maybe it’s just that I wrote these people and now I’m done with them. Argh!

    • Sorry for your struggles. You have been writing for a while so maybe sticking with your tried and true is a good idea. You started this one plotting, maybe now go back to just letting it flow and see where that gets you. Good luck.

  3. I just started Story Structure Safari (class opened today) taught by Lisa Miller, which I referenced in my post on Tuesday. This is my second time taking it (the first time, I pretty much had to abandon it because of Life), and this time, I’m using Three Proposals.

    Because I’ve already taken the class, I have all the handouts and assignments and I’ve started doing them and BOY am I learning how screwed up my book is. Some sections are way over-inflated and others are miniscule (like my ending). I’m looking forward to Lisa’s guidance on cleaning it up, but it’s given me A LOT to think about, and I’ve come to realize I have to abandon some stuff I really wanted in the book. Like the entire side-trip to Rye/the smugglers. I just don’t think there’s a place for it right now. Perhaps that will change, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m trying to be open to changing everything for the sake of the story. To make it good. Rather than hanging onto my darlings.

    I never thought I was a plotter, but I’m starting to see the benefits of it. My goal is to have 3P completely plotted out in a detailed outline by the end of May. I’m hoping after that I can churn through writing it. I want it finished for Golden Heart next year. But mostly, I just want it done.

    In seeing how other writers write, those who are “fast” spend a lot of time on the outline, making sure it’s rock solid, before they write a single scene. I’m going to try to be that disciplined. But after all the mucking about I’ve done in 3P, I’d rather spend my time there than rewriting (which is pretty much where I am now…I don’t think I have the heart to rewrite this a third time).

  4. Good luck with the revisions. I just finished Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked. I thought of that when I read your comment about your end being miniscule – her’s was in that book. It was like the story was floating along and then I turned a page and saw “The End.” In general, I don’t consider this one of her best from my point of view. I’m sure others loved it, but I would recommend other Quinn’s over this one.

  5. With my most recent one, I tried laying out just the protag/antag/goals and turning points, figuring that would allow me to weave discovery into a solid framework. Not so much. I’ve written 100,000 words, but the ms. is just 70,000–the last ten I’ve written 4 times. To echo Kay, argh!

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