A funny thing happens with my brain sometimes. It manages to think of the most inappropriate things first. It's a blessing and a curse, really.
Like when I'm drafting my WIP, and I need to think of a good name for a Storyville bordello. No, I say to myself, there's no time to think of a good name, the perfect name. Just throw something lame in there as a stand-in, a temporary place holder.
Okay, myself says to I. Will do!
The name that spurts from my lazy-ass brain to my fingertips to the keys: The Spotted Cat. A great name for a nightclub. Not the best name for a whorehouse. Ew.
This has been your daily dose of D'Oh! You're welcome.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ~George Orwell
I'm a YA writer who delves into urban fantasy, paranormal and romance, and who loves reading good books almost as much as writing them.
When not writing—or working—I enjoy daydreaming, drinking tea, and walking in cemeteries. I used to spend the rest of my time checking my inbox for manuscript requests, but am now proudly represented by Rosemary Stimola, of Stimola Literary Studio.