Friday, May 1, 2009

The Plotting Process: No "Right" Way; No "Wrong" Way

Before I talk about the method I use when writing a novel, I'd like to chime in on the first point of Latayne's post on Wednesday regarding a question she was asked by a conference attendee over the weekend. I too was dismayed to hear that an author would think he or she could take a secular story, add some Christian elements, and voila! have something that could easily be sold in the Christian marketplace. Putting aside the fact that selling to a CBA publisher is no easier than selling to an ABA publisher, Christian elements aren't something to be tacked on to a manuscript as an afterthought, any more than elements of horror are tacked on to a story that was meant to be anything but horror. If Christian elements don't emanate from the heart and soul of the author, it will feel as false as it is. That author may get away with it once, but it's unlikely that readers of Christian fiction -- who are a discerning audience -- will buy into it twice.
Now to the question of how we plot our novels. I loved reading the comments to Wednesday's post and seeing that even in our differences there are a lot of similarities. I've just begun my tenth novel (2 or 3 of which were great learning experiences but will never see publication) and until now my pattern was always the same. I had a beginning and end in mind when I launched the project, with a general idea of how I planned to get from point A to point B. Everything else evolved out of that, often surprising me, including most of the supporting characters. I've loved that process, loved the surprises I found along the way, loved the subplots that presented themselves.
But this time I'm using Jeff Gerke's "How to Find Your Story." Jeff will be our guest blogger in June, and we'll talk more in-depth about the process then. It's a method that's easily adapted to the amount of detail the author wishes to develop before the writing begins. In my case I've penciled in more detail about plot, characterization, motives, etc. than I've ever begun with, but less than other authors I know. For me, it's an experiment. I'm hoping the writing comes easier without barricading the detours I find so intriguing. Next time I might try Latayne's method of taking apart a novel to use as a pattern. If I do, I have just the book in mind.
But here's the thing I continue to learn: there is no right way; there is no wrong way. There's only the way that works for the author. And a particular method doesn't have to carry over from one project to the next. That's what's so wonderful about the creative process . . . it's so creative.
Visitors who are readers and not writers, have you learned anything interesting about the writing process in the blog posts and comments this week? We'd love to hear from you.


Bonnie Grove said...

I'm so new to publishing I squeak when I walk, but I have a hunch, and educated guess, that the book itself dictates how it will be plotted and decided. Sometimes the genre dictates it (you can't write an excellent thriller without having plotted it out exactly, for example), other times it is the ebb and flow of the characters and situation.
Writing involves skills (learnable and teachable), but it also takes the intuitive creative (art/talent) to write a novel.

Because I write upmarket contemporary (fun for thinking women), I have freedom in how my books can be plotted (which may very well be why I write what I do - I gotta be me! I gotta be me!) I'm finding that the novel I'm working on now is coming together in a very different way than Talking to the Dead came together - and it's working beautifully. The next book? I'll let you know!

Paula Wiseman said...

I appreciate your description of plotting- that's the method I've used, letting the story unfold 'naturally'. The intermediate plot points seem better than when I try to lay them out rigidly beforehand. I'll look forward to Jeff Gerke's posts, though. I'm always open to new tips and strategies.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

jeff gerke: awesome. LOVE his plot tool...really well explained and makes plotting almost *gasp* easy!

Patti Hill said...

Although I plot extensively, the plotting process is quite random. I have a thought for a scene because I know my characters and what they want, so I write the idea down on an index card. No lie, a white, lined index card. I know, I'm hopelessly 20th century. But...I can shuffle the scenes around until the story gels and see where gaps need to be filled. I come up with scene ideas in the stangest places, so yes, I keep cards everywhere. I'm too embarrassed to tell you what I do with them next. We'll have to get to know each other better. Just know that it has to do with tape and foam core board.

Anonymous said...

Well, the secret's out -- with my absence of a plotting gene, I'm going to write a book about an historical character next. Now, that's safe plotting...

Latayne C Scott

Carla Gade said...

I'm an intuitive writer. During the plotting process I begin with a story concept and brainstorm, writing down things as they come to mind and saving them for incorporating into the story later. Once I begin writing the story just takes off and I ask my characters many questions, why would they do or say something, what motivates them and what do I hope them to learn as an outcome. I kind of stay in listening mode, and let the story tell me what's going to happen next. It is about as satisfying as reading a book, only I just told it to myself. Since I have learned a lot about writing scenes, do find my rythym, which I never had earlier on in my writing days. The hard part is editing the work. The initial phase of plotting is my favorite.

Kendall Evans said...

I've been a great fan of Donald Maass' book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and it's accompanying workbook. I've found it works wonders for me.

And in reference to adding Christian elements to secular novels, I cringed because I've actually read a couple of those in the past. It was very clear the writer wasn't familiar with what goes into writing a Christian novel. It was much like watching bad actors in a play. Eek!

Love this blog, by the way!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your comments. I love discovering how other writers approach novel writing. I've gleaned tidbits from all of you. It's awesome the way we all interact and share here, iron sharpening iron. Love it.

Harvey Chapman said...

Hi. You're absolutely right - there is no "wrong" or "right" in plotting (or any aspect of writing a novel).

Personally, I like to plan in a lot of detail. In fact, turning the plan into prose is almost one of the last jobs!