Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Psuedo-Plotting

I'm stuck.

I've been pantsing like mad to the main conflict, but now that I'm here, I have no idea how to resolve it. *sigh*

What do you pantsers do in this situation? Sit and wait for inspiration to strike? I'm going to have to do some major notebook plotting/brainstorming at this point, but I'm surprised at how stuck I am.

Here's the thing—I usually have some idea of how the final conflict is going to happen before I start writing, which is what I write toward. It also means that I am thinking of how to resolve that conflict while I am writing the rest of the book, so by the time I get to that point, I know exactly what to do and how. Which can come sometimes lead to the plot and characters seeming contrived. And no one wants that.

Writing with minimal plotting, on the other hand, has helped me to develop more depth in my characters. Instead of doing what I say to lead the plot from point A to point Z, they are basically doing whatever they want most, since I'm not getting in the way of their motivations. I've come to realize I need to strike a balance between plotting and pantsing, but maybe a tiny bit more plotting would be good. :)

Lest ye think I've been sailing without a compass, rudder or sails, I HAVE been using a Nine-Step Plotting method that I read about a few years about in a QueryTracker blog post. It's more or less like separating the parts into three acts, then three acts within those three acts, and provides enough of a vague outline that it keeps the action moving forward, but you don't have to plan actual events to plug into the steps, you can simply write toward them. You can write it in a list, or keep it in a cube! You can write out a long description or just the headings to remind you. It's very versatile!

1. Triggering Event

This is the inciting incident, the moment that sets the story into momentum. While this can be an event that happens in the past, even long before the birth of the main characters, it's best if the inciting incident is on page one.

2. Characterization

Here is where we get to know the main characters. No, no, no, not through use of infodumps and/or telling backstory. Because you've set up the inciting incident on page one, the reader will be able to enjoy getting to know your characters through their actions, in the way they react to step one.

3. First Major Turning Point

Often called the "key moment", this is when your protagonist reveals to the reader how invested he or she is in resolving the conflict. But more should happen at this stage than just the protagonist's decision. It's not just chance that Box 3 touches Box 6 below it: Box 3 may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in Box 6.

4. Exposition

More cube-fun-goodness! This box should be meaty, juicy, and raise as many questions as it answers. It should also relate to points both before and after it within the manuscript. Relating to Box 1, here's where you delve into the incidents surrounding the triggering event. In relation to Box 7, you should use this part of the novel to foreshadow your protagonist's "darkest hour". Box 4 should "reveal a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times ahead."

5. Connect the Dots

No sagging middles here! In order to support its own weight, Box 5 must connect to all the boxes around it. Box 5 should refer back to elements introduced in Boxes 2 and 4, giving the impression that the mc will win the day... until they get to Box 6. Mwah-hah-hah! But the most important relationship Box 5 has is with Box 8. No one is going to believe the revelation the protag has in 8 to save the day unless it is hinted at, foreshadowed, in the middle.

6. Negative Turning Point 

I call this one, simply, All Hell Breaks Loose. Reference what you've done in Box 3 to intensify the conflict, and keep your focus. Notice what box sits below this one? Pretend it doesn't exist for now and put your characters through HELL!

7. Antagonist Wins

At least, the antagonist takes the advantage, let's say. Now, the protagonist must react to this defeat. How they keep their hero-cool in the face of certain doom depends upon the characterization you've established in the above Box 4. And how this leads them to the events of Box 8.

8. Revelation

Here is where the protagonist overcomes the obstacles of Boxes 6 and 7 via the device introduced in Box 5. Put simply, the hero triumphs over the antagonist only because of those flaws or character quirks you've introduced earlier. The key is to introduce these quirks in a casual way, or in some way that at first seems to cause the character grief or angst.

9. Protagonist Wins

Huzzah! The negative turning point in Box 6 is rectified while the character's resolve from Box 8 is brought into full bloom. And the loose ends are tied up here, too. Whether that leads to a happily ever after, or something more open-ended, you need to tie up most of the plot-lines to your reader's satisfaction. Unless, of course, you're going for a series. :)
You may be noticing that you can plug nearly any movie, book, play or even some video games into this module for examples: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Great Expectations... The amount of prose each writer devotes to the squares may differ, but the elements are nearly always used in this order for the greatest impact. Hope this helps you as much as it has helped me!

How do you plot? If you're a pantser, how do you stay on the right path?


Julie Dao said...

Yes, a balance between plotting and pantsing is definitely ideal! I'm on the opposite end... I plot. TOO MUCH. So much so that I'm too mapped out and don't enjoy the spontaneity of spur-of-the-moment creativity. Hope you figure things out soon!

Krispy said...

I second the call for balance! I'm a pantser that needs to plot more because I get into EXACTLY the situation you're talking about. I can't tell you how many stories are not-really-stories I have because I have no idea what is going on. It's awesome but also annoying. :P

I find that talking it out with someone helps. They might be able to see the way out or if not, at least you have someone to bounce ideas back and forth with - and they can tell you immediately if such-and-such thing makes sense.

Sophia Chang said...

I think those of us who are pure pantsers are this way because either 1) we have a sense of the story in our heads already and plot as we go or 2) are into the discovery of the whole thing.

As one of the purest pantsers you'll ever meet, I generally pull a Cynthia Leitich Smith and write a discovery draft. This often happens during or right before or right after NaNoWriMo. I'm guided by pure images or sensations or one single logline.

I'm not afraid to throw around 30-50,000 words away when I go to the next draft or two.

The one time I plotted, it was a perfectly tuned story that both Krispy and Alz and all my CPs thought was boring and went nowhere.

This latest draft (that you read the first part of) was a crazy tranny mess that obviously had major structural issues but had a hell of a lot more heart and is getting good feedback from the betas.

As for how to get out of a conflict, I just keep writing. I still stick to certain principles I learned from NaNo - if you're stuck, skip the boring part and go to the next interesting part.

Maggie Stiefvater said something similar in a recent talk - that writer's block means she went down the wrong path and she has to backtrack to the place where the story is interesting and tells itself again.

Hope this helps at all.

Sara McClung said...

Oh man good luck, Tere!

I'm a plotter--but I only plot the very important turning points. So I know where my characters have to go--but they get there kind of their own ways. Though I say that now, while every story I've written I've prepared for in different ways.

But one thing I can't do is start a story if I don't know how to resolve it. I did that with my first ever novel and... for me, it was just a mess.

For you, I say sit down with some coffee and a notebook and a couple pens and do that MAJOR brainstorming! Give yourself some time and something will come to you. Maybe reread what you've written and see if you've (accidentally or otherwise) left clues for yourself in the manuscript. Sometimes the answer's right there and you don't even realize it!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, girl, that is the question of the day. I'm a pantser--big time--and I have been staring at my ending for weeks. WEEKS. Grrr...

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm a plotter, but I love what you've got here. It's a great start to make sure all your duckies are lined up straight first before you start writing the outline.

I used to outline with no attention to structure. Now I know better. Now I use Save the Cat to save my ass. :D

Anita said...

I used to be a pantser, but have discovered the miracle of outlining. Keeps me out of trouble. :)

Abby Annis said...

I'm a pantser who is failing miserably in my attempt to be an outliner. I'm totally stuck too. I think I might need to come up with a blended method. That Nine-Step Plotting method sounds like it might be helpful. I'll have to give it a try. Thanks!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I am usually half plotter and half pantser. I like to have the basic plot outline in place before I start writing. Thanks for the Nine-Step plotting method. I am sure it will be very helpful for me.

Pk Hrezo said...

Yep, in a nutshell! I totally used the Plot Whisperer's template to write my recent WIP. I'm a plotter, and using the guide there just really helped me put into motion. .

JEM said...

SHAMELESSLY stealing this. I am a pseudo-panster, because I do generally "outline" what's going to happen. I wrote one WIP successfully not having any clue where it was going, but the last two or three I've worked on I stall out for the exact same reason. I have the inciting incident and the characters, but I don't really know what to DO with them after chapter 10. So....yeah. I'll just be borrowing your shovel there to dig myself out of this hole.

Mick O'dwyer said...

My version of plotting:

a): I outline my core characters and put a situation in place to kick things off.

z): I have an idea for how things conclude, but it's not set in stone.

In between A & Z stuff happens, backstories get filled in, characters get invented, sidetracks get explored, research gets done, and lots of tea gets drunk.

There are certainly points during a first draft where I get stuck with my feet in the mud, not knowing how to move forward. But, thankfully, so far, stuff usually works itself out with a bit of lateral thinking; it's mostly a matter of just staying true to the characters and the world you've put them in.

Mick O'dwyer said...

I plot like this:

A/ Develop some core characters, choose a setting and drop them into a situation.

Z/ Come to a conclusion.

Between A & Z a lot of stuff happens. I usually have a few ideas I want to explore and play with, the parameters of the story, just to see where they lead. As I'm writing an idea might pop into my head, an event or device to move things forward, but these are rarely planned and tend to come about because of how situations develop. If I find I need to research something I will; I'll suck up any little nuggets of opportunity to 'discover' things that can benefit characters or plot. Chances are, if I stumble across something interesting then anyone who's reading the story might feel the same.

But yeah, every now and again I get stuck in the mud and struggle to work my way free. It rarely takes long once I choose not to get hung up on it - I distract myself with thinking about what's going to happen next, or somewhere else much further down the line.