Monday, May 10, 2010

Plotting From a Panster? What a thought!

I DID mention I'm NOT a plotter, right?
Just to be clear.
But last year at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, I took author Ron Benrey's calls on plotting and learned how to 'sketch' a plot. I don't think he MEANT for me to take it as a 'sketch', but the whole idea of die-hard plotting hurt my brain, so I adapted this plot-structure for my own 'evil-panster' purposes :-) a very small way, I started to plot.

I know - every panster cell in me started frantically waving- but it made sense to my disorganized brain. A sketch? Sure - like an outline.

The cool part, is it isn't set in stone. It's a general outline for the story, but as the plot and characters grow, mature, or change, the 'outline' can change too. In his book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction (which was written with me in mind), Ron Benrey points out 13 Plot Elements to create a gripping story. Along with having memorable characters, conflict, and the ability to weave a good yarn, a action-filled story usually contains these 13 elements.

I’m going to take the 13 elements and use C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an example.

1. Set up the plot – who, what, where

WWII London with the four Pevensie children. Their father is at war and their mother must send them to stay with a reclusive professor in the country.

2. Hero’s motivation – what does your protagonist want?

Initially, the motivation is to get their minds off of their separation from their mother and the fact that their father is in the war

3. Begin the hero’s quest -

Lucy is the first child to enter Narnia, thus beginning part of the quest – the real ‘Plot Point’ of the story is when all four children enter Narnia

4. Change the hero’s direction

The children realize they can’t go back home without Edmond, who is now under the influence of the White Witch.

5. Challenge the hero with problems

The children are chased by wolves, Edmond is threatened to be turned to stone; they are constantly on the run from the witch, and in search of Aslan. Not only this, but their brother is a traitor and is in the clutches of the White Witch.

6. Change the hero’s status

The children realize that they are kings and queens of Narnia when Aslan ‘knights’ them after rescuing Edmond. They must make a decision now, whether to stay and defend Narnia, or go home.

7. Give the hero tougher problems

Peter learns that Aslan will not be around to help fight in the battle against the witch. He is uncertain whether he can defeat the witch or not, and doubts his abilities to lead the Narnians.

9. Let the hero suffer maximum angst

Easy – Aslan’s death. All seems lost for Narnia when the White Witch slays Aslan in Edmond’s place.

10. Change the hero’s direction

Peter decides to fight anyway…for Narnia, but the White Witch is too powerful for him and nearly kills him

11. Give the hero new hope

Aslan appears, alive from the dead, and the tide of the battle changes.

12. Achieve a win/lose conclusion

Aslan kills the White Witch and those who were wounded are healed by Lucy’s magic vile.

13. Tie up the loose ends

Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy are crowned kings and queens of Narnia. They rule Narnia for many years, but then, while hunting the mysterious White Stag, they find their way back through the wardrobe. They return to their children’s ages and cannot get back to Narnia through the wardrobe…but, the professor gives us a hint at a sequel by telling the children they will not get back to Narnia again through THAT door.

The last few choices can be moved around a bit - for example, the moment of maximum angst could be during the battle when Edmond's stabbed and Peter is almost killed by the White Witch - but I think Aslan's death is much clearer as the point of maximum angst.


Hope this little outline helps. It really opened my eyes to the basic outline of a story.

Now, we all develop stories in different ways. Some of us may use this plotting strategy and a thumbnail sketch instead of a step-by-step approach. For me, I use half/half. I muse a while and then sketch/write…and muse a bit more, and sketch/write some more. Before I begin, I usually know my ending so the plotting structure is a loose guide through the jungles of my story.

I also have a tendency to write scenes out of order. For example, I have the last chapter of my wip written, plus a few chapters before it, but I'm only officially 'on' chapter 6. I'm learning that a bit of a sketch helps maintain my focus, and in all honesty, my sketches look a whole lot like the one above - simple 1-3 word sentences for each 'point'.

There you have it.

If you plot, do you have a structure? technique?
If you don't plot, what elements (if any) do you use to keep yourself on track?


Unknown said...

I also write scenes out of order. I finished about half of my WIP, and then, started writing from the end. Sounds crazy, but it has really helped me keep going.

Pepper said...

Oh Julie,
SOOOO glad to know there's another confused writer out there ;-)
I write scenes out of order on EVERY book, except my fantasy so far.

Casey said...

Great post Pepper. Susan May Warren does about that same thing and was one of the things we talked about at my class. Just working through character motivation, their black moment, their worst fear, greatest dream, pitting those two against each other, etc. I started doing that on my current WIP and have a rough sketch of where I want to go. That has already helped- I think- I hope!! :)

Keli Gwyn said...

I'm a pantser turned plotter. I got tired of having to delete major portions of my wip, so when my agent told me a plot point 1/4 of the way into my story didn't work, one that required me to rewrite the remaining 3/4, I decided there had to be a better way.

Now I plot the chapters and scenes before I begin, using multi-colored sticky notes for the different elements of a scene: POV, location, reason, etc.. Knowing where I'm heading when I sit down to write is great. I'm not a slave to my system though. If I get a better idea as I go along, I just toss the old post-it notes for that section and make new ones.

Krista Phillips said...

GREAT post! I don't plot, hardly at all.

I should do more. Sometimes I start out with a wee little idea and just start writing to see where it goes. Then I do have to stop and decide, okay, who are my main characters, and what are their BIG goals for the book, and I delve a little into motiviations too, but that usually evolves and developes as I write.

I rarely know how I'm going to end the book, but I always have it at the back of my mind as sometimes, I'll just be writing and a good bit of it pops into my head.

About half-way through the book, I usually take a writing break and go back to read. This helps me fix any major problems before I get to the climax part of the book, and reaffirms where I've come from so far. I fix plot holes, a little grammar and stuff, but I also timeline at that point to make sure I know where I am and where I am going. Since I'm not a plotter before hand, this is really critical.

ONE of these days I'm going to be good and do a rough outline before I write. I WILL do it... probably, ha!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Pepper, this was AWESOME! I loved how you broke it down with the examples in Narnia! That was fantastic and so helpful.

I had a general idea about where my first story was going, but it was all in my head. This next go around I am going to do a detail plot using Camy Tang's synopsis class notes. I really hope it will help me not to have to work quite as hard at the revision. :)

Anonymous said...

A great help thank you Pepper! It sounds nice and simple and great for me. Seeing as I'm a new writer I don't know if I'm a panster or a plotter but I'm thinking I probably would naturally tend more towards panster! Any simple helps like this one are invaluable for me as I get started!!

Anonymous said...

I am a planner..neither a plotter nor a pantser. I plan, which is in the gray area. And well you know I am a Michael Hauge groupie.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Tina, how is a planner different from a plotter or panster?

Pepper said...

Thanks, Casey think about it.What if Susan May Warren might be our guest ;-)

Pepper said...

That's why we need to have you come visit as our guest soon and post about your journey ;-) i'd LOVE to learn more about it

Pepper said...

I'm kind of like you. I don't plan or plot until I've written my first 1-3 chapters, then I will start my sketching....maybe. I'm trying to move toward a little bit more sketching.

Pepper said...

I think you should post about that class. I'm sure we all could learn from it.

Pepper said...

Glad to provide some help, Elizabeth. We're all learning along this path -believe ME. I have soooo far to go :-)

Pepper said...

You are slowly moving me into the Michael Hague goupie realm. His presentations are fabulous. I'm going to try and post about one of them soon. They are so succinct

Mary Vee Writer said...

I didn't use to be a plotter. As a result, I became trapped in long, lagging moments trying to decide what happened next. I've since seen the light and hopped on a very exciting bandwagon. You've given me even more ideas with this post. Thanks, Pepper!

Casey said...

I tried, Pepper! She was on a deadline, but said she would love to sometime. Sooo, if she emails me, we are in!! :)