Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oh! The Places You'll Go!

So I don't want to get pedantic or preachy today, but I want to address this post to those writers who are afraid to plot because they think that it takes all the surprises out of writing.

Well, I'm here to say that I don't plot every little thing that happens in my manuscript before I write. I imagine that would be exhausting and take all the fun out of the journey you've taken with your characters. But there is a happy medium between and unplanned road-trip and an over-planned tour. Think cruise ship.

Taking myself for example (since I've yet to set up my experimental laboratory full of guinea pigs-- er, I mean writers-- for less biased research), I recently added some scenes to my wip AFTER I thought it was finished. I didn't plan to skip these chapters, but when I read through my printed copy of my first draft, I knew something was missing.

My initial notes for these new chapters?

Cast more suspicion on red herrings. Develop E and M's friendship.

While I've covered those bases-- I think ;)-- I've also packed even more plot into these chapters than I ever thought possible. I've done horrible things to my mc, caused her anxiety and pain, and even made her debate ending her life! I'm so cruel. But it's all for the betterment of the story.

The point is, I didn't plan any of these things. I'm the type of writer who NEEDS (with a capital N-E-E-D) to have some idea of where I'm going. An itinerary, to keep from abusing the inappropriate term "outline", and to go along with our "cruise" metaphor. This itinerary keeps me hopping from one important destination to another, making sure I see all the important sights and scenery.

But there's plenty of time to visit the places not on the itinerary, see the sights that make the trip really worthwhile. These surprises are what give your work life and flavor, real color and craziness. Isn't it always the kooky side-trips that you remember the most about your vacations? The unexpected adventures? It's the same way for me when I'm writing. I can never have everything planned, and so while I feel the safest when I'm writing the scenes that I've already planned, I have the most fun writing the scenes that are "off-itinerary".

And having an itinerary means I won't wind up in the doldrums with writer's block.

Give it try sometime! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the places you'll go. ;)


Elana Johnson said...

Oh, yes, a destination is good. I do have a beginning point for my story and character arc. And an ending. It's just all the stuff in between that eludes me. Which is why I don't outline. It just freaks me out. If I could do it without wanting to stick my head in the oven, I would.

Go you! (I love how you say you made your MC's life miserable. Ha ha!)

Voidwalker said...

I do typically plan and organize my brain out every chance I get, but sometimes in writing I overdo it and I need to step back and just let it flow. Sometimes unplanned story produces a new and better direction that what was mapped out for it. So, now days, I try to keep it a mix between planning and surprises.

I like your cruise analogy.

Jade said...

I DON'T outline but I'm currently rewriting an old ms and before I started I brainstormed and jotted down some notes. It's one of those stories where all the backstory needs to be clear because it's more complex then I usually write. It isn't a chapter by chapter outline but because I've already written it once, it kind of is. I'm intrigued to see how it works out. I guess only time will tell.

V. S said...

I think their should be a solid balance between planning and exploring. Whatever works for the writer. I plan very little and that is why I am killing myself in edits now, yay! :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm an outliner. I love me my outlines. That said, I love Tracy Hickman's advice: Hold a plot like you would marbles in your hand. Have enough structure that all the marbles are cupped in your hand. Too loose and you lose your marbles. Too firm and you lose your marbles. Basically, give yourself wiggle room to change things up but make sure you have a grasp on things.

Anissa said...

I guess I'm like Elana. I know the beginning, a few key scenes, and the end. The rest is pretty much a free for all. That said, I am just finishing a complete rewrite (from scratch) of my WIP. For it, I planned out the scenes I thought I'd need. Then I put the plotboard away and wrote. Wouldn't you know almost everything changed. LOL. My brain is not good at following directions.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the way you put this post together, Tere - the title, the picture, the way you came full circle at the Oh, and you had great info packed in there too, but I, um, really loved the packaging! :-)

Amy Saia said...

I am guilty of outline fear; afraid too much planning will zap the mojo. But it's what you're supposed to do, so I try. You did a great job helping a writer see that an outline is essential to the whole "journey" and that there is always room for spontaneity. Thanks for that!

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks, y'all. I had a lot of fun writing this post, but it's all true!

Corey Schwartz said...

Great post! I don't write novels, but I am AMAZED that anyone can do it without an outline.

Dawn Simon said...

I outline but not every little thing. I like the cruise ship analogy. :) Great post!