Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Confessions of a Reformed Writer...

Okay, now that I've cleared the decks of some other projects, namely turning in the ms for The Marriage Masquerade (almost three months early, yay!) and fixing something that I totally forgot at the end of Clara and the Cowboy, it's time to turn my attention to Lily and the Lawman.

And this involves a confession.

Hi, my name is Erica, and I'm a plotter.


I know!

I wrote six, count 'em SIX novels by the seat of my pants. A vague idea of where I was going with the story and who the people were, but that was it. Every day when I sat down to write it was an exploratory adventure. (Though the fifth novel was grounded in actual historical events that guided the plot. This novel was a learning experience in itself and gave me glimmers of the possibilities of plotting.)

Writing adventure drafts was fine because I was learning so much about writing through the process of finishing novels. Characterization, plotting, POV, show don't tell, and so much more. And no clue how to plot. I had dabbled with it before and it didn't work for me.

You see, when I had completed two novels, I took a look at plotting. The Snowflake Method, First Draft in 30 Days, Plot cards, I tried them all. And plotting the story seemed to suck all the fun out of writing, taking away that expectancy I felt when I sat down to write, that serendipity and whimsicality I loved when things took an unexpected turn. One of the things that I feared about plotting/outlining was being hemmed in by having written out the whole outline. What would happen if I veered off that plot? All my hard work would be for nothing.

At least that's what I told myself. The truth is, plotting was hard. Probably the hardest part of the entire writing process. And I'd rather just write and see what happened than do all that sweat-work up front. Getting the words on the page was difficult enough, why add to it with plotting?

But now, as I start my tenth novel, I've grown up. Not without resisting, but grown up none-the-less. (This isn't in any way suggesting that authors who write seat-of-the-pants are immature, I'm just saying my reasons for not plotting were immature. Writers are all different and at different places in their journey. If you're a SOTP writer, more power to you. I'm just journaling my own process here.) One of the things Heartsong wants when you query them is a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. But how could I do a chapter by chapter until I wrote the story and saw what happened?

Enter the Plot Board. This cool tool I found from reading the Seekerville blog. I've blogged about my own use of the plot board here. How cool was it to stumble across a plotting system that I could manage and get to use post-its at the same time? I admit it, I'm a post it freak.

By using a combination of ideas from lots of different plotting methods and using the plot board, I can now turn out a rough plot in an afternoon. It isn't perfect, but it's workable. And the amazing thing is, plotting by post it means changes are quick and practically painless. I can move things around, or if I decide I don't like the scene I've jotted down...well, it's just a post it note. Crumple it up and throw it away. The plot board is also a great way to see my whole story at a glance, visually evaluate how many POV scenes each character has, and check the pacing of the story.

After I've got the plot board filled up, I transcribe the information into a document. I'll share more about how that looks tomorrow.

Oh, and the quilt pattern in the picture above is called "Flying by the Seat of Your Pants."


  1. Oh man, I hate when people talk about plotting. I DO make plots beforehand, but they always fall apart when the characters show up and the subplots begin. The beginning and the endings usually stay close to the plan, but I love the wild ride of the middle where the themes and layers get woven in. You're an example for us all.

  2. Wow, that board looks intimidating!! lol I plot by sketching out the story in synopsis form on paper - just where I think it will go, then going back over and over it until I add in all the details and "oh yeah!" moments and such. I do more drafts of my synopsis than I do the actual novel. =) But when I'm done, its done, and I have a sturdy outline to write by. I haven't had to do a chapter by chapter synopsis before. Sounds daunting.

  3. I couldn't imagine not having an outline to start writing. Not necessarily to hem you in, but to keep you going on the write path

  4. Looks like you've really found your rhythm! I don't think I realized that you're on your 10th novel!!! For some reason I was thinking 7th.

  5. You know, Betsy, when I first saw that plot board, I thought it was intimidating too, but then I realized it was a chance to play with post-its. :)

    I tried a white board, but it didn't feel right to me. Somehow, the plot board just fits.