Monday, October 24, 2011

Plot Points from a Pantster

Hi everyone!
Pepper here and I discovered about four months ago that I've been wrong about I'm not a pure pantster. Now, there's a lot I still leave up to the 'ride' in writing, but I do have an outline - one I discovered about a year ago and have been using it ever since.

I've blogged about Michael Hauge's The Hero's Journey before, but I wanted to kind of share how that information plays out in my writing life.

Just yesterday a story idea winkled its way into my thoughts. That's how they start. An idea. Yesterday, while I was working on my historical WWI romance, I ran across some cool information. There were three German prisoners on board the ill-fated Lusitania when it left New York Harbor. Now, most people assume they went down with the ship when it sank in less than 20 minutes...but...

what if.....

And, what if a sister of one of the prisoner's was forced to go undercover to try to save her brother...

what if....

I think whether we're pantsters, plotters, or planners - the genesis of a story begins with the 'what if'.

But what happens next?

I usually get a pretty solid beginning and ending in my head, but I don't start writing until I get to know my characters a little. I play scenes in my head, 'chat' with them, add more 'what ifs', long before I start chapter one. I guess I just daydream about them for a little while.

Then.... I take The Hero's Journey.
I try to plot my story out along those lines. Recently I've started typing out internal and external motivation too - so I'll keep it fresh in mind.

So - what does the Hero's Journey look like?
It's a loose outline, which suits my pantster tendencies well, but it gives my ADD brain some nice focus too.

Well, I WAS going to plot out my WIP using the Hero's Journey - but that probably wouldn't be very interesting for you guys - and it would be SUPER long.
So I've just put the outline.
What you do is fill in the outline for your novel and it gives you a basic direction of your plot structure:

Internal Motivation
External Motivation
Moral Premise (if you have one)

Set Up Plot - the regular life of the hero/heroine

Make the Hero's Motivation Clear - what does the hero want? How do you set up from those first few pages to make us 'care' about the hero?

Begin the Hero's Quest - short transition here. Recognition of a change
Change the Hero's Direction (door #1) - The actual change - a decision. Frodo decides to take the ring. Peter, Susan, and Lucy decide to rescue Edmund from the White Witch, Annie Reed decides to research the lonely widower known as Sleepless in Seattle/

Challenge the Hero with Problems - first batch of trouble, gradually becoming more and more difficult to challenge the hero's new choice/direction

Change the Hero's Status (midpoint) - big decision time. Once he/she makes this decision they can never go back to life the way it used to be.

Give the Hero Tougher Problems - more trouble. Bigger troubles.

Let the Hero Suffer Maximum Angst - the BIGGEST trouble. no hope. all is lost. Superman beaten up and weakened by the kryptonite while Lois Lane is dying in an earthquake.

Off the Hero a Transition -  choices become available

Change the Hero's Direction (door #2) Hero makes his/her choice. In the Titanic, Rose must choose whether to live or die with Jack.

Give the Hero New Hope (these next two usually happen pretty close together if not at the same time)
Achieve a Win/Lose Conclusion The choice ends a happy or sad ending. The hero either obtains what htey wanted or don't. In the Titanic, Rose loses Jack but gains her freedom.

Tie Up the Loose Ends - What does the hero's life look like now? How has he/she changed for (we hope) the better?

If you're like me, then I hope this glimpse of the Hero's Journey will give you another guideline to use in your writing plan.
I take this general outline and build from there - usually I let the story take me.

Are you a pantster, plotter, or planner?
Do you have a system/process you use to brainstorm your plot?


Keiki Hendrix said...

Wow, thanks Pepper. I will certainly use these tips... Never really looked at plots this way. Thanks for posting.

Casey said...

Plotter! ;-) I used to say Plotster and *I* thought I coined that term...but nope. Stan Williams STOLE my term from me at the Early Bird. 'Course he didn't know it was my term and I was sitting waaaay in the back, but it was STILL my term.

So I'm sticking with plotter now. :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Me? DEFINITELY a plotter. :) Loved your post, Pepper. For my first wip, I've done a similar road map, so to speak. My Book Therapy has been hugely helpful in teaching me the craft of planning my story. :)

Joanne Sher said...

Yanno - I'm preparing for NaNo, and I'm getting a LOT of my plot development through learning about my characters. Filling out a nine-page character sheet (TONS of questions to answer) and as I learn about the characters, their story is coming. But I'm thinking that makes me a plotter. ;)

Great post, Pepper!

Pepper said...

Hey guys,
Thanks for stopping by. I can't wait to read all these posts this evening (once I get home from work)

Busy day (lots of conflict ;-)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I love that picture :) I used to be a pantser, but now I'm plotter all the way. I love it, it works for me and I can't ever imagine going back. HOWEVER, I have found that the only disadvantage with doing it this way is that it takes longer for me to get to know the characters. Before, I'd spend a lot of time with them in my head and develop a relationship. Now, it's all on paper and planned out but there's less initial relationship with the characters so I have to work harder to get to know them.

Regina Merrick said...

I usually start a story with a scene that just won't go away, and then when I get stuck, I start to PLOT! ;) I guess I'm a hybrid. I love filling out character sheets, figuring out their background, etc., but it always starts with that opening scene (that many times doesn't make it through the final cut!).

Thanks for the outline, Pepper!

Angie Dicken said...

I'm a lot like you, Pepper... like you didn't know that :). But what I've found myself doing, is taking on the panster approach for character development...which has caused me to have a ton of rewrites. I guess I am learning the hard way how important it is to really "know" your characters so they are believable and interesting.

Pepper said...

I'm glad it's been helpful. I think authors are constantly growing in the way the create stories - so who knows what I'll be doing next year :-)

Pepper said...

Good for you!
I can't say I'm a plotter...yet! But I'm not 'afraid' of the process now - I just like the 'ride' ;-)

Pepper said...

MBT is awesome, isn't it? When I have time, I want to peruse the wealth of knowledge there in more detail.

Pepper said...

Those detailed character charts sure do teach you alot, don't they? I'm always amazed at what I learn about my characters when I fill one of them out.

But I STILL have to have had the character living in my head for a while before I'm any good at filling it out well :-)

Pepper said...

Cindy is a reformed-pantster-turned-plotter, I see
You know, I see all the benefits of plotting and have tried to pursue a thorough plotting strategy, but it hasn't stuck yet.
I'm happy to have a framework that's loose enough for me (at this point in my writing)

BUT - I'm up for learning, as long as it will make me a better writer.

Pepper said...

I TOTALLY get that! And my first chapter might not make it to the final cut, but it's my first intro to the characters. How I FIRST saw them in my mind.

Julia said...

Love these DVDs. I'm a big time plotter, but of course after I start writing...sometimes my characters have different ideas.

Amie McCracken said...

I learned this plot-line in college but haven't used it it my current writing. I'll have to apply it to my projects. I'm a panster but I have to have the beginning and end figured out so I know where I'm going. Sometimes it changes, but mostly not.

Dee Martin said...

I made myself a form in google docs using this outline. Gonna see how it works for getting things down, quick and dirty - thank you so much :)

Pepper said...

Sometimes I envy the full-plotter their plans...
Then I start writing and realize my characters have plans of their own (just like you said ;-)

Pepper said...

Amie (love you spell that, btw) - I'm with you. I need to see the beginning scene and ending scene in my head (at least). In fact that's usually how stories come to me.

Pepper said...

Hope it helps. I'm a 'pantster' and it helps give me some structure :-)