Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Pantser's Plotting Plan

I am not a plotter. This is no secret if you know me or have read any of my blog posts. My stories start with characters, and the plot comes along as I go. In the past, I’ve maintained that plotting stifles creativity in my case. But I want to go on record and amend this statement.

It’s all the time wasted banging my head on the keyboard wondering what to write next that stifles my creativity.

For the first time in the history of my life, I’ve discovered a plotting book that doesn’t make my eyes glaze over after the first chapter. In fact, I'm almost finished!

It’s well-written, informative, and doesn’t have the confusing code language some of the other ones seem to have. The focus of Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene is building a story intentionally based on each scene. Stories tend to come to me in glimpses anyway -- kind of like movie clips -- so this approach works. But the key I need to work on is developing a framework so I don’t have to do so much editing and reworking after my first draft. I need the puzzle box with the big picture to help me piece it together, so that if and when I become a published author, I can deliver my finished product in a timely manner with as little stress possible. :)

Writer friend Jessica Patch recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad. As you can see from the notebook above, I’ve been going all Hermione Granger on it with several pages of notes over the holidays. I’ll be sharing much more about what I’m learning later, but for starters, this is my tentative plan for how I’m going to plot my current manuscript:

Character studies. I wrote an entire blog post on what goes into this process for me not too long ago, but to sum up, I learn about their quirks, deepest desires, the ways they sabotage themselves, and what sets them apart as people I’d enjoy talking to over a slice of pizza.

Plot threads. Hopefully in the above step, I’ve learned at least the gist of what my main characters will learn and how they’ll grow throughout the story (the heart of the manuscript!). So my next step is to write out a shortish sort of synopsis for each of my storylines -- as much as I know about them already, anyway.

For example, continuing the theme of Pepper’s post yesterday, if I were doing this for the Lord of the Rings series, I’d have one “synopsis” for the ring’s journey from Bag End to Mordor, one for Aragorn’s ascent to king, one for the Battle of Helm’s Deep, one for Aragorn and Arwen’s love story, etc.

It sounds complicated, but it really helps. I think having a map like this up front will show me what to focus on and how to most effectively strengthen each plotline (and consequently each main character's journey) in relation to the others.

Scenes. From there, I can separate the sequential events of the synopsis into bullet points and then imagine specific scenes to flesh out these bullet points and further my story. For this step, I will likely stick to my pantser roots and write as I go. But having the map shaped in the previous steps will help me keep my characters on track and hopefully give me purpose for each writing session. I can’t emphasize how much the Make a Scene book has helped me in terms of being intentional/impactful with each scene!

So that’s the tentative plan for how this pantser is going to try her hand at plotting. I have all the essentials to make this work.

Now to stop planning and WRITE. Hopefully word count will be spared, the delete button will get a rest, and any unnecessary *facepalm* moments will be avoided.

Are you a plotter, pantser, or as Casey calls it, a hybrid "plotster"? Any tips or tricks that have worked for you?


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who enjoys stories of grace in the beautiful mess. 

She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


Casey said...

I am most definitely a pantser, but there are plotting elements that I like--mainly a rough outline to at least give me a guidebook to my road, but then I love to just sit down and explore where this road will take me. Can "plotster" be a writing term?? ;)

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Casey - I'll get on the plotster train! I amended this post to include that term -- just for you! I like the way you think :)

Jessica R. Patch said...

Yay! So glad it worked for you. I'm becoming more of a plotter. I'm officially a sort of outliner. LOL

Jennifer K. Hale said...

Heaven knows I am the worst kind of pantster. Like you, though, Laurie, scenes come to me like movie clips. Definitely going to check out this book! Thanks!

Sally Bradley said...

I'm a complete pantster. Just like you, Laurie, planning it out kills creativity. I've even found that interviewing my characters is a bad move. It forces them to be something that might not be natural to the story, and then I follow that character outline instead of deciding what I need as I go.

Like you, though, it all starts with characters for me, and I write to find out what happens to them. Other than a few big scenes, I don't know myself! But each scene totally builds off the previous one. I get that completely! :)

What works for me is to be very intentional about what will happen in each scene before I write it--who is in it, where it is, the purpose of it, what 1 to 3 big things will happen in it. There's no ramble writing to find out what happens. I don't write a scene unless I know what's going to happen in it.

And I make sure to not let my POV character think everything but say a lot of what she's thinking, which ups conflict. Almost every time, someone will say something I didn't expect which will lead me to the next scene.

It's so fun. And terrifying. And mostly fun.

Usually. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Totally awesome, Laurie! Ready to dust off my writers brain and get Crackin!!!

Glynis said...

I need this book! I'm a total pantser too and have never written anything long enough to learn how to plot. That's a goal for this year. Thanks for the great post.

Unknown said...

I'm a pantser too, Laurie (funny, spell check changed that to panther at first, no I'm not a panther). Anyway, I'm a suspense writer so I have to have some sort of outline. Even so, I end up with a lot of revision. I would love to be a better plotter (more efficient at least) so I'm going to check out this book. Thanks.

H.R. Sinclair said...

Pantster. When I try to plot I end up staring into the great white page. I like the idea of creating plot threads. But how do you write a synopsis with out a plot?

emily @ for the bookish said...

I'm a full on panster! I seem to be the exact kind of panster you are,Laurie! I see my characters first, and then see my story work out in glimpses, like a movie. I will definitely be looking into getting this book!! :)

- Emily

Anonymous said...

I lean much farther to the side of pantser, but like Casey--I need a very rough, bare-bones outline time-line thingy.
I second the motion for "plotser" to be a writing term, ya'll! :)
In all seriousness, Laurie, this post was SUCH a help as I figure out the sequel to my most recently finished WIP.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Jessica - So much easier to have an outline from which to brainstorm scenes if you get stuck. And by you I mean me :)

@Jennifer + Glynis + Emily - Pantsers unite! Yay for new pantser friends :) Hope this book helps you as much as it helped me!

@Sally B - Excellent tips from an excellent writer!

@Amy - Let's do it!

@Southpaw - Good question! I think I figure out a basic point A to point B and then figure out what happens to my characters based on what I learn about them. What they would do in this situation? What could happen that would put them in distress? What is the worst possible thing that could happen to them right now? How would he/she get out of this predicament? And the ideas for their different journeys/storylines come from there.

Meghan - Happy to help! And I love love love just letting a story grow organically. But I wanted to be intentional and try something new this time. Always trying to grow :)

Anonymous said...

Love this, Laurie!!! I've never heard of that plotting book before but it sounds like one I could handle. I often see scenes in my head like movie clips too- that's why lots of times I write my books out of sequence, because I write what I "see ". And it's character driven.
And look at you? Rocking this comment scene (pun intended)


Preslaysa Williams said...

Great post, Laurie! You are inspiring me to kick it up a notch. Thanks :-)

H.R. Sinclair said...

Thanks Laurie.

Ashley Clark said...

Laurie, great post! I'm like you... I swore by panster-ing, and that's actually how I was taught to write! But what made the difference for me was when I started having to write synopses on books I hadn't yet written to submit with proposals. Yikes! After doing that a few times, though, I realized how much energy I was wasting by not having the basics down before jumping into a big project. I'll have to check out this book!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I totally get that. Especially as moms, we need to guard our writing time and make it as productive as possible!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Yay! You bet!

Jordan Rosenfeld said...

Thank you so much for writing about my book, and I am beyond thrilled that it helped you. I'm working on a sequel, of sorts, co-written with Martha Alderson "The Plot Whisperer" which is due out in Fall of this year, called Deep Scenes.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

I am also a reformed panster and yes, it was the head-banging that did the trick. I have that book and MANY more. They are very helpful and have resulted in a lot less writing headaches.

Kara Isaac said...

I'm a total pantser, but I'm going to work really really hard to become a plotser this year. Hmmm, or maybe I'll just aim for plantser as a first step and see how that goes :)

Sherry Ellis said...

Thanks for the book suggestion. I'm a plotter. This might help make sure I'm on the right track. Caffeine is a definite must!

Unknown said...

LOL on the "panther" comment above. Yup, not that. But I do a rough outline of the climactic scenes based on chapters. So...outliner, I think. But characters do drive the story and sometimes surprise me. For my mystery, however, I did wind up figuring out my scenes more ahead of time. This book sounds like a good one!

Archer said...

You know, I'm a newbie writer myself, and I'm pretty much just crawling out of the "pants-write horrible fiction and not worry about how terrible it is" stage. But like you, I invariably end up starting with my characters -- and also like you, most of my insight comes in terms of little clips. Definitely going to be looking into this book, though. Thank you!