Experiments in Plotting: Success??

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If you’ve been reading here for a while you may have seen me talk about plotting before and the recent (in terms of my entire writing history) experiments I’ve been doing to try to find a plotting process that works with my drafting process rather than against it.  You can read about how I’ve tried planning back in 2019 and the beginning (or maybe the middle) of the plotting experiments I’ve been doing with the third book in the Sword and Shields series this past year if you’re interested.

For most of the more than twenty years I’ve been writing fiction, I’d been what writing communities often call a pantser or a discovery writer.  I have an idea and some characters, and I start writing.  There’s no plan, no plot, just a vague idea of the inciting incident and the eventual end point.  This works great for things I never finish, or for fanfiction where it doesn’t have to be very polished and can meander and change course and no one minds.  This doesn’t work quite as well when the plan is to publish the book at the end of the process.

Most of my experience with plotting and outlining a book comes in the revision stage.  After I have a big messy draft, I’ll do a brief summary of the scenes and make an outline of what’s there, and then work on adjusting that outline to work better.  For the second and third books in the Swords and Shields series, I completely redrafted from an outline written after the initial draft of the book.  I think this ended up being pretty successful for book two (which is out for another round of beta reading at the moment) and I’m fairly proud of how it’s turned out even if it does still need a bit of work.

I spent part of this week rereading book three, which still isn’t quite finished (as in the ending hasn’t been written yet), but is in a lot better shape than I remembered it being.  I’ve spent somewhere between six months and a year away from the draft working on other projects, and in that time some of the problems I was having with the outline, the scene ordering, and the general pacing of the book seem to have fixed themselves in my head.  I know what to do with the scenes now and how to structure the book in a way to keep reader interest while also laying out the story in a way that’s understandable.  Now I just need to write a few scenes missing from the middle, possibly redraft whole sections of the middle as well, and then finish writing the big climactic ending which should be the fun part.

So I think those two plotting experiments have been successful.  I think I’m beginning to get an idea of how to use plotting strategies and outlines to revise a book I’ve already drafted.

I’ve also recently experimented with some plotting before I started drafting.  This was my NaNo 2020 project, which I started brainstorming, writing, and plotting for in October, wrote a little over 125k on in November, and continued working on well into February.  It started out as one idea, which several story beats planned out, a cast of characters, and no antagonist.  It was supposed to be something relatively light, fluffy, and happy.  A slice-of-life anime style low stakes sort of plot.  This is not what I ended up with.  I now have partial drafts of three novels, totaling about 52k, 38k, and 11k respectively.  The 11k one being the original story idea.

All the planning, prep, and plotting work I’d done in advance did help keep me writing for nearly five months on one project though.  Yes I was bouncing between the three books and a good week of that time was pulling all the scenes out of the massive NaNo 2020 document into their respective books, but the outline wasn’t a stumbling block like I’ve experienced in the past.  That’s a big deal, at least for me personally.  I’ve been avoiding outlines for years (in fiction and non-fiction writing) because I think better as I write and my end products have been better when I draft them, then outline them, then revise them to have a better outline.

I think, this might be a practice thing.  I need to practice writing outlines and then drafting them.  I need to practice revising with outlines.  I need to practice having a more structured writing process.  The reason the drafting method worked so well is because I’d been doing it for more than twenty years.  So plotting and outlining is something I need to keep trying, keep working on, and keep practicing so I can get better at it.  Practice makes you better at almost everything.

While I may not have a completed book based on any of my plotting experiments yet, I do have some very positive forward progress.  I call that a success, or at least a success so far.  I’ll likely still do some discovery writing during my outlining process to get to know my characters and better think through who they are so I can better know how they’ll react in various circumstances in the outline.  I’ll probably deviate from and rewrite my outlines as I go.  I’ll occasionally go completely off the rails and write a completely different book (or two) as I did in November.  But that’s okay.  That’s still practice.

I’m going to keep practicing and keep trying out plotting options and planning tools and seeing how they work for me.  I’ll always keep writing no matter what my process looks like.  With any luck, those two things will eventually turn into new books I can share with everyone.

The Plotting Experiment: Progress So Far

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If you’ve been reading along for a while, you may have seen me talk about this before, but for anyone new, I’ll start with a little bit about what my writing process has usually looked like.

For most of my life, drafting has been a wild ramble that started with a character or a scene and expanded from there.  Plot and structure have always been fixed and molded after the fact.  Some call this discovery writing, some call it pantsing (because I’m flying by the seat of my pants) and I’ve just always thought of it as writing or drafting.

This method of writing has led to a very labor intensive and often excruciatingly hard editing and revision process.  During work on my second book, this led to breaking down the entire thing by scene, looking at what that scene was supposed to be doing and then culling any scenes that weren’t essential.  That led to a scene list and a plot outline and a complete rewrite of everything.  I kept a bit of dialog here and there, and most of one scene, but other than that, I was writing everything from scratch to fit the new scene outline.

This lead to an attempt to write the outline first, and then do the drafting.  It was the first time I’d ever tried it.  Even back in school when outlines were required, I would work ahead and draft the whole paper, so I could then reverse engineer the outline.  I’ve never liked them and always found them confining and creativity-reducing.

But I needed to redraft book three, which wasn’t finished, and the outline had worked for book two, so surely I could make this process work again.

It’s sort of worked.  I have most of a draft of book three.  I have a bunch of versions of the outline (including one that does a seven-point plot breakdown of the overarching plot and each subplot).  I have most of the plot relevant scenes for the major overarching plotline.  My subplots are a mess.  Part of the problem might be that I’m trying to insert subplots that relate to certain characters who are not very important to the main plot, and thus it’s hard to add those scenes in a way that feels relevant.  Part of it is that for seventy-five percent of the book half my characters are not interacting with the other half.  I’m still working on how to make that structure work without confusing or boring readers.

It’s not a failed experiment, it’s just not as successful as I wanted it to be.  I’m still struggling with the outline itself.  I still struggle to write the scenes the outline calls for.  The closer I get to the end, the harder it has been to write.  This may have nothing to do with the outline process (the world is more insane than usual right now) but it’s hard to separate it out and remind myself that there are confounding variables.

This latest experiment wasn’t a fully from scratch project.  It’s the third book in a series, which has its own difficulties, and it was about 50% written before I started working on the outline for the redrafting.  I’ve been making progress.  Pretty stable and consistent progress even, but it doesn’t feel the same.  I’m not excited about the story or the characters or the ideas in the same way I was when I was originally drafting the first version, or the way I usually am as I draft a new project for the first time.

Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m realizing that writing is work.  For the first fifteen years or so that I was actively writing, it was all just for fun, and just for me.  I didn’t share my work much.  I was praised for the work I did share, and that gave me confidence to keep writing.  I took creative writing classes in high school, I took creative writing seminars in college, and even audited one in grad school because I missed it.  (I’ve never loved writing short stories, but I do love being in a critique group or a workshop environment.)  Now that I have one book out, and two more in revisions with the goal to publish them, it’s more than just fun and experimentation.  Writing is work.  And sometimes work is hard.

I’m going to keep pushing forward with the experiment and keep working on this draft so I can finalize book two and then book three and work on getting them in shape for publishing.  I welcome any and all tips from those who learned to outline or those who always have.

X is for X Marks the Spot

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If you stumbled upon me through the A to Z Blog Challenge, welcome. If not, check out the challenge and all those participating at their site.

 

X is a hard letter to find writing words for. Some writing friends came up with a few more, but this was the first idea I had for X and I like it.

So X Marks the Spot.

And that’s all about treasure and treasure hunts. And when you get down to it most, if not all stories, can be broken down in terms of a treasure hunt (kind of like all stories are a journey of some kind, physical or otherwise).

Treasure hunts have a few key pieces. There’s the treasure, the map, and the journey to get to the treasure. I’ll go over how each one is useful for conceptualizing your plot. Continue reading