Monday, June 27, 2011

Holey Plots

Hey everyone. Annette here. Changes are coming to SW in July. This is our final, official Manuscript Monday. Beginning next month, we'll keep bringing you great guest posts and Genre Feature Days on Monday, but we'll be mixing in other things as well. Stay tuned...
Today let's talk about Plotters and Seat-of-the-Pants writers.

Which one are you: a plotter or an SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer? SOTPers may begin their novel with a general outline in mind, or not. Oftentimes, they just begin with a kernel of an idea, some characters, and/or a title. Then, they sit down and let the story go wherever the characters take it. Plotters, on the other hand, outline as much as possible, thinking through most, if not all, elements before striking those computer keys.

I’m a modified SOTP. I used to write completely SOTP, but lately, I’ve been challenged to learn to plot. Oh, ugh. Now, I’m not saying every SOTPer should learn to plot, I just know where God’s been leading me. I believe He wanted me to be a more flexible writer. And it’s working. Plus, I’ve found the right tools and am finding the right balance for my process. Woo-hoo! You know, that’s key—consider that a nugget freebie this fine Manuscript Monday—find the right tools for you and practice by writing so you’ll learn your best process. Every subsequent manuscript will likely be easier to pen to a rough draft form because you’re not scrambling for tools while trying to write. I keep a file box full of articles, characterization tools, plotting helps, etc.

Recently I pulled out a manuscript I wrote almost exclusively SOTP. Just sat down and wrote it. Didn’t worry about outline. Didn’t really have a goal (I know, plotters, I know—shocking!). I tapped into the river and went with it. A fun ride! But on reading it through, I found holes.

I have a confession—one of my biggest weaknesses as a modified SOTPer is pacing. *gasp* But, how cool is it to see our weaknesses? That’s when we can go find tools to shore up those places. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

So here are some helps for SOTPers who find their stories a little holey when they’re finished:

~ Pacing troubles—get people moving! Introduce a situation as a catalyst for change in the story or as a catalyst for character growth. Go with your instincts. If you sense the story is boring, it probably isn’t just that you’ve read it a million times, it probably just needs tweaking. So, bring a plot element closer to that point in the story (drag it in from the future). As a writer, I hesitated doing that, feeling afraid I wouldn’t have enough plot elements for the later parts of the story, but trust God. He’ll feed you the right information at the right time.

~ Character inconsistencies—keep a chart. Most SOTPers probably do go through the routine of writing characters sketches and filling in charts. I do and I highly recommend it. Now, if you’d rather nothing stop the flow of gushing words, that’s fine. Just work on your chart bit by bit after your character reveals his/her traits to you. Readers catch inconsistencies. Respect them enough to stop and jot a note—whether it’s backstory or hair color or aspirations or motivation. Consistency is key.

~ Losing track of the story—create an outline after you write the story. Some editors and agent  guidelines require chapter-by-chapter outlines for book proposals, so outlining isn’t completely avoidable. And just because you sit down and pound out your story from beginning to end in a flurry of weeknights and weekends doesn’t mean you’ll never need an outline. Don’t be afraid. Just begin at the beginning. Creating an outline will show you where you have pacing or plotting holes. And seeing holes is great! You can fix them before anyone else sees your work. Or you can ask your crit group to help you brainstorm.

So, SOTPers, relax. Enjoy the process. Don’t be afraid of finding holes, that’s an opportunity to produce a better story.

Write on!

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