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?