How I Write (You mean I have to have a plot?)

Well, technically, yeah. You need a plot. You know the whole character wants something and can’t get it and tries multiple times until he succeeds? Yeah. That.

 Recently I experienced an epic total pantsing failure.

 I tried. Honestly. I said, okay, I have an idea. I have a title. I’m just going to go with it. I wrote 6 chapters. And though there are some funny moments, touching moments, and okay dialogue – it was missing a backbone.

 My story was a gushy, mushy, gelatin-like substance with nothing solid to hold it together. But I still had my idea and my title.

 So I started plotting. And it was as good as eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

 How I plot:

  1. I open a document and start free writing a bunch of What if and What then questions.
  2. I let it sit a couple days. I research. I let my brain work on it while I do other things. I dream. I think about the story I would want to read.
  3. I go back and pull out what sounds good. I write a logline. And then a paragraph summary. And I build from there. This might change drastically over the course of the story. My first idea is never my best.  
  4. Then I’ll work out the structure according to the 3 acts. Inciting force. First act climax. Middle of story twist. Dark moment. And then I build scene by scene toward the climax.
  5. And I’ll write a scene by scene outline.
  6. Finally, I start writing the first draft.

Does my outline change? Yes. And I adjust from there.

Constantly through out the outlining and writing I ask: How can I make this scene bigger or better? How can I make things worse for my character? How can I add emotion?

Click on the banner to find out how other writers plot! How do you plot? Any tips or tricks? Plotter or pantser? Share. 

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19 Responses to How I Write (You mean I have to have a plot?)

  1. Robert Guthrie June 23, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    I’m a simple plot guy. I just have to know how the novel starts and ends, and then how first and second acts end (I think in three act structure). Then I can write an overview. And then start writing.

    For me, pantsing helps fill in gaps. And of course there are the pages of notes after a line break at the end of every draft that I add to all along the way.

  2. kris June 23, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Um, yeah, I do it that way too. *waves hands distractedly* (Don’t look at my page.) 🙂 Actually I talked more about character development on my blog today.

    Seriously, Laura, in a nutshell you just described what I’ve been looking for — I need to do the questions. I’m struggling with the plot my new WIP — actually my two new WIPs.

  3. Laura June 23, 2010 at 11:25 am #

    Robert – There is a certain degree of pantsing where the best idea comes. I have a goal for each scene but the rest is pantsing. So I can see why writers do it. I just can’t.

    Kris – I can’t wait to read your new stuff!

  4. Marcia June 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Pantser. Outlining saps my need to write the book. BUT I either do something similar to this after the first draft, or toward middle or end of it if I have the “gushy mushy” you spoke of. That sets me up for the revisions.

  5. Jennifer Carson June 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    You are so organized Laura! i think I’m going to use some of these tips for my new WIP!! = )

  6. Laura June 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Marcia – It truly is amazing how differently writers work. Outlining and knowing what is going to happen is what inspires me to write it! 🙂

    Jen – Again, it’s neat to see how different everyone’s brains work when it comes to creating! There is no right way!

  7. Karen Strong June 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    This post had me at “peanut butter ice cream.” Yum.

    Okay, yeah plotting.

    I plot and outline similar to what you do, Laura. It always changes of course. But I can’t start writing without it. This is why I give pantsers their due — I just couldn’t just start writing and see where the story takes me — I need some structure.

  8. Tatiana Caldwell June 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    The way I do it is very similar to this. I can’t do pantsing to save my life, and I’ve tried. I love how clearly you explained your method.

  9. Sherrie Petersen June 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I love hearing other people’s processes. No two people do it exactly the same. And actually, I change a little bit how I write with each WIP.

  10. Tina Lee June 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Okay, I’m gonna copy you the next time around. I love the orderliness and the questions. You are fab at writing about all things writing.

  11. Laura June 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks for commenting everyone! I love hearing about the writer’s process esp. when it is so different from mine b/c those methods are hard for me to grasp – like pantsing. 🙂

  12. Ansha Kotyk June 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    I’m with you on the NOT PANTSING part. I mean I pants each scene just like you. But if I were to start a new story with a vague idea, and sit down to write I would freeze up. I’d stare at the blank white screen until it swallowed me whole.
    Again I love your lists, it makes it very easy to understand where you’re coming from. Great post! 🙂

  13. Kay June 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    I’ve been pantsing through my first novel (maybe a fourth through), but since I’m retelling a fairy tale, I do have a rough structure to follow. I love the idea of brainstorming questions. I’m definitely going to try that one. I may not even wait until my next story!

  14. Creepy Query Girl June 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    great post! Sounds like we have pretty much the same technique. I love outlining. And I use the ‘crossout’ button as I finish off scenes. I love seeing my whole outline get crossed out when I finish my first draft. And the outline does end up changing as I write the story- add scenes or move them around etc…

  15. Karen Lange June 23, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    I am a little of both and have yet to perfect either one to my liking!

  16. Gail Roarke June 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    I’m a pantser. I’ve tried plotting, and it has never worked for me–but your approach might be worth a shot. It looks like a hybrid between the two approaches, and might be workable for me. I’m going to try it sometime soon.

  17. Catherine A. Winn June 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    “My story was a gushy, mushy, gelatin-like substance with nothing solid to hold it together.”

    This describes to the max what my work is if I just start writing with no direction in mind. I always have to have the working plot first.

  18. Stina Lindenblatt June 24, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    That is exactly how I do it too. Sure it may take longer the being a panster, but it’s less of a nightmare in the long run. 😀

  19. Heather Kelly June 24, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    Laura–this is fascinating to me. I am a pantser. I have an idea, and let it stew for a while–a long while–and then I explore the emotional journey of the characters through music (a soundtrack). I sometimes write a novella because I must get to the end, and then throw it out and start over to really fill in all the gaps. I pants it all the way through. I wish that Robert has trained me to think in three acts, but he hasn’t yet. Being a pantser means a ton of revision, but quick first drafts. I love to see how you set it all up. Thanks for the insight!

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