Friday, June 5, 2009

To Plot or Not?

Recently, a question was posed on a message board asking the proper way to write a novel. And, being the wise woman (or would that be wise guy?) that I am, I jumped in and answered:

The proper way to write a novel is the way it works best for you.

Oh, the wisdom!

But it's true. There are as many ways to write a novel as there are wannabe novelists. OK, maybe not quite as many. But still, when you consider all the different ways there are to plot a novel or not plot a novel, it adds up to lots.

Here are a few ways. See if one of them is you:

Die Hard Plotter. This is the writer who spends months - yes, MONTHS - researching, plotting, charting, mapping, brainstorming, outlining, and planning, before they even write ONE WORD in their novel. For me, the key word here is DIE. Because that's what I'll do before I end up a DHP. But hey, it works for some!

The Flaky Plotter - The snowflake method was created by author and physicist, Randy Ingermanson. It is a unique way of designing your novel using the "shape" of a snowflake. Many authors I know use (and highly recommend) this method, but I have never personally tried it. I keep meaning to, but anything that seems too much like plotting turns me off. However, this idea intrigues me and I intend to check it out.

Noteworthy Plotter - This type of plotter invests in index card stock. She has millions of index cards on which she writes each scene. Then, using a story board (or the wall), she arranges her index cards in different sequences to create a complete story. The advantage is that if a scene doesn't work in one place, you can move it to another. You can also "see" your story at a glance, spot any plot holes, and fix them, accordingly. My thoughts? Too much clutter.

The Chapter Master - Some writers choose to sit down, number a few sheets of paper with the number of chapters they intend for their book, and write a paragraph or so of what they want to accomplish in each chapter. This is a good way to loosely plan your novel so you know the main points and general direction you're taking but still have a lot of details you can make-up as you go along.

The Roman Plotter - For some reason, looking at a page of Roman numerals and letters and subletters, gives me flashbacks of history class. Shudder. But some authors find this type of structured outline to be the perfect way to organize their thoughts and plan the course of their novel. I say too much structure gives Lynda a headache. Just as history was not my best subject (OK, it was my WORST subject), Roman plotting is not for me.

The Invisible Plotter - Ah ... we finally get to me. If you visited me in my office, you would find no evidence of plotting. That's because all of my plotting is done in my mind. Well, most of it, anyway. I tend to mull things over, create plotlines and characters, and file them away in my mind's pendeflex. When I finish a scene or chapter, I take some time to just think and brainstorm about what will happen next. Once I get a general idea, my fingers start flying over the keyboard again. Works for me.

The Pantser - Last, but not least, we have the Pantser. The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer that could care less about plotting in any form. Plotting cramps their creativity. And who likes cramps? Pantsers simply write. And write. And write. And see where the story takes them. Of course, Pantsers are the ones who usually have to go back and fix lots of stuff later. They probably spend much more time in the editing than the writing stage because they didn't stop long enough to think things through the first time. But they don't mind. In fact, it's the only way they can write.

So what type are you? Do you extensively plot your novels or do you take the other extreme and wing it?

What it comes down to is that the way you write your novel isn't as important as just getting it written.


Joanne Sher said...

I really don't know what kind I am. Not sure I fit any of those! Of course, I haven't written a novel yet (don't consider my NF a novel). I'm thinking I'll be a loose plotter. I'll letcha know, okay? ;)

Cindy said...

I am the Invisible Plotter for the most part. Although, with my last few rough drafts, I have gone as far as to write down notes on big scenes I'd like to have take place during the story.

sherrinda said...

Oh, I'm like you, the Invisible Plotter. It seems to work pretty well, but then, I have never tried anything else! :)

Catrina Bradley... said...

Very interesting!! Most interesting is that Randy I. says to take an hour to write a sentence. HELLO? lol

I've not written a novel, but my FW short stories are mostly Paststers or Invisibles. I've also plotted in advance using a rough outline, or even simpler - bullet points. I went to my record of which stories have won EC's, and they are all Pansters, as are most of my personal favorites apart from the EC's. I guess I know what I should stick with, huh?

Thanks, Lynda - great post!

K.M. Weiland said...

I'm indubitably a die-hard plotter. I spend months sketching plot ideas and hammering out an outline by hand in notebooks. Then I spend a couple months researching. Then I start writing. I know my process absolutely doesn't work for my most people, but for me having a detailed road map is crucial if I'm ever going to get to where I need to go!

Dee Yoder said...

I'm part snowflake, part plotter, and part panster. What a combination, eh? But I do have to say that having my novel outline set in chapters, with each chapter holding about 5-6 scenes, I'm really much more focused on this novel than the one I started last year on Nano. I really WILL finish this one..and the goal is for it to be finished by the end of summer-woo hoo!

Debbie said...

I've been a panster, but I'm finding that it doesn't work for me because I NEVER finish anything. I think I'm going to give the chapter/paragraph thingy a try and start writing. I have three unfinished novels in my computer with lots of work invested in them, but not enough...thanks for the inspiration! :)

Dara said...

I can never be a pantser or invisible plotter, as much as I'd want to try it. My stories require too much research prior to actually sitting and writing.

I suppose I'm somewhere between a chapter master and a DHP since I generally just have brief chapter summaries that serve as loose guidelines when I'm actually writing; the DHP part comes with all the historical research. Even then, I only do a moderate amount of research. Tiny details come when the first draft is complete and when the chapters have been critiqued.

All my notes are unorganized though, all in various little notebooks--most of my outlining and story development occurs when I'm not near a computer. :P

I've always wanted to try the notecard method (once the chapters were loosely summarized) but considering I'm a fairly unorganized and messy person, notecards would become my new decor around the house :P

Tammy said...

Hey Lynda,

I was reading your blog here and I have found it very interesting, especially this post. :)

I've never written a novel and I don't think I would even attempt to do so. But, I have thought about writing short stories.

IF I were to write a novel, I would definitely be Noteworthy Plotter. lol

Thanks for a great post Lynda! Certainly a lot to think about. =)


Debi said...

I ran across the snowflake method a few weeks ago and it seems to be working for me. The last novel I tried to write ended up in the shredder with some of the characters still dancing around in my head begging to be developed. I like the idea of having my entire story developed before I make it come alive on paper. It was the ConFuSiON that got to me before. Anyway...I AM GOING TO WRITE THIS NOVEL...did that sound determined enough?