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To Plot or Not to Plot

03 Mar Posted by in Writing Tips | 8 comments
To Plot or Not to Plot
 

A common argument among beginning writers is whether to write your story from the “seat of your pants” or to plan the story before you begin to write it.

The “Pantsers” maintain that their story will develop best if it sort of writes itself. They say their creativity will be stifled if they do too much thinking beforehand.

On the other extreme is Randy Ingermanson, the self-proclaimed Mad Professor of Fiction Writing. His famous Snowflake Method is a very detailed process that will have a large part of the writing done when you’ve finished with the plan. Randy is a mathematician, so this totally fits his style, and he’s been very successful with it.

After you’ve been writing awhile, you’ll find your own way of constructing a story. I find that I need a little structure, and I use my own watered down snowflake (slush?) to keep me on track. I refer back to this outline to be sure that I keep my facts straight. Nothing would be worse than having my heroine becoming lost in the deep blue pools of her sweetheart’s eyes when in the previous chapter we read that they were a rich,comforting brown. It also helps with remembering minor character’s names.

The plan is always subject to change. As the story develops, my heroine’s short term and long term goals may change. This is perfectly fine, but having a written plan helps me to realize what other storylines may need to be rewritten also. If we’ve spent a long time talking about the dress she is making for the upcoming fall festival, and suddenly she has decided to be out of town doing something else that weekend, we’ll have to go back and re-examine the whole direction of the story.

Another thing that really helps me is a timeline. I write down the birthdates of my major characters, when they moved from one place to another, when their siblings were born, even if none of this happens during my story. I just tend to manage things better when I have a sense of where these folks came from. For one story, I borrowed an idea from Deborah Raney who had created this huge spreadsheet with all of the facts that affected her story, before and during the “action”. On mine, I charted important things that had happened in each character’s life with a different color, and noted when their paths crosssed. This helps when they are recalling things that happened years ago. They probably couldn’t have attended summer camps together if one of them still lived with his family in New Guinea at the time. It was clumsy, and killed a lot of trees, but it worked for my feeble brain!

Plotting hasn’t killed my creativity. In fact, it helps me. When I think of an idea for a future chapter, I often space down on the page and jot the idea down in red. Then, whenI get to it, I’ve got a head start on writing the next scene.

Your story- your own method of planning. Find what works for you, and make it make sense for your reader. Happy Trails!

  1. Debbie Archer03-03-11

    Awesome article! I’m a panster but I’m one of those people who needs just a tad bit of organization to validate my often-times disorganized onslought of ideas and midnight inspirations. Why do the best ideas hit just as you’re about to drift off to sleep? Anybody???

    Loved the idea of putting your thoughts in red for later speculation. GREAT idea!

    • Jenny Carlisle03-04-11

      Thanks, Debbie. My problem is I become inspired just when it’s time to go to work for my “day job”. Oh well. Notes jotted down everywhere! Now, to gather them up!

  2. Pamela Stephens03-04-11

    Thanks Jenny that was very well done! Do you have a “template” for your plotting notes? Wish we could have seen yours or Randy’s “sample” notes. Makes sense to me…thanks for sharing!

    • Jenny Carlisle03-04-11

      I don’t have a template handy, Pamela, but I’ll work on that. Check out Randy’s snowflake. I used the first two or three levels of his model to create my own version.

  3. Jennifer Miller03-04-11

    anyone know where I can find that snowflake? I’ve never heard of it, but I wouldn’t mind checking it out.

  4. Lisa Collins03-04-11

    I have been and probably will for evermore be a pantser. I’ve tried other ways including snow flake, but the only way I can get my first drafts down on the page is to just write. I wing my inevitable trip-ups on the fly and the faster I type the better the story turns out. Its like if I take time to slow down I start to second guess myself.

    Now I do keep a running list of characters and how they inter-relate to my main character.

    Oh, and your (slush) comment made me laugh, LOL.

  5. Jamie Adams03-04-11

    I’m a pantser but did use the snowflake on the story I’m writing now. I did find it to be helpful.

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