Plotting

Onward…

I have successfully completed five synopsis versions. Note, I did not say I have completed five successful synopsis versions. rolleyes

I’m happy with the final one, though I’ve gone according to the 1 page per 10,000 words rule. I’m going to let it sit for a couple of days then get back to it… mainly because I’ve signed up for some one-on-one synopsis help with the wonderful Mary Buckham (who gives wonderful in-person and online workshops), and am waiting for feedback from her.

Not one to simply kick back and wait, I figure it’s time to look ahead to the next project. I have an “Ideas” file loaded with… well… ideas. There are stories in there waiting to be written, characters eager to be brought to life on the page. And then there’s me – just a little gun shy after having completed a book only days ago. 

I’m not exhausted. If anything, I’m energized from the ride of the last story. I’m not numb creatively. I have new and interesting scenes playing out in my head.  

I am however, torn.

Which story do I work on next? The ideas pull me in all directions. I want to write. I want to get back to what I was doing just a week ago, and hammer out the story, feel the very last rush of words spring off my fingers and onto the page.

Alas… that’s called “finishing”. 

This… is called ‘starting’.

Plotting – whether in detail or denial – is a long process. I’m in denial right now – insisting I’m a pantser through and through when actually, I desperately need a balance of plotting and pantsing.  So, while I’d rather sit here and type away, showing my family how busy I, as writer, can be, I’ll be thinking and no doubt convincing them I’m simply goofing off.

I’ll spend the next couple of weeks turning scenarios over in my mind, picturing the worst obstacles I can throw in my new hero’s way, measuring how high my herione can leap and building hurdles twice that height. I’ll be plotting without paper. Watching the story develop. Seeing the sway of my heroine’s hips, the swagger of my hero’s purposeful gait. And I’ll be dreaming, hearing their voices. Eager for the moment a blank page turns into the first page of a brand new chapter.

The Plot Thickens

I have reached Chapter 14 in my newest story and must say, I am quite worried for my characters. I’ve done all I can to prepare them for what’s to come, indeed for what they’ve already faced. And yet they still hesitate, as if worried they haven’t the ability to survive. My words to them, if I could speak directly to them – and have them actually listen to me for once – would be that my idea of a satisfying romance includes a happily ever after ending. That bit of information would, if they’d care to hear it, comfort them and give them that sense of ability they seem to lack at this moment of no return.

Ah… but then again, if they knew this, if they’d taken the time to read my notes as I have, they might not feel the anguish they need to feel in order to make that happily ever after ending a reward they’ve earned and deserve.

I will confess… I have tortured these poor characters more than any other characters I’ve created. I’ve given one of them a harrowing past filled with fear, grief and confusion. I’ve given the other a past wrought with responsibility beyond his means, his age. They’ve survived those pasts and have become strong, independent characters because of it. They should thank me, don’t you think?

Instead, they fight me. They keep secrets from me. My hero, for instance, informed me – well into Chapter 12 – that he speaks Spanish. Well golly-gee. Shouldn’t he have told me that sooner? Like before I’d written a scene where the villain was speaking Spanish and none of the ‘good guys’ were supposed to understand him? Sheesh. Fortunately, that scene didn’t include the hero, so no harm, no foul. Still… it would have been nice to know.

I suppose what’s fair is fair. I mean, after all, I’m not really giving them the heads up on what challenges they’ll have to face. I’m merely asking them – expecting them – to trust me and know they can indeed get themselves past those obstacles. What good is a happily ever after ending without the tension of possibly not reaching it?

A friend of mine is reading this story as I write it. She’s just returned Chapter 13 to me with these words: “This plot is so thick, I don’t think you can stir it anymore.” That made me laugh aloud. I love the sound of it, though I do hope, with just a little extra effort, I will indeed be able to stir this plot just a little bit more… like maybe three chapters and an epilogue more. 😉

The problem with my story

Way back when I was first toying with this story, I was sitting on a blanket under a huge tree near the bank of the Hudson River. We’d spent the day touring the magnificent homes in Hyde Park, New York – the Vanderbilt and Mills Mansions – and took a few moments to soak up the beautiful and serene landscape. I whipped out my writer’s notebook and scribbled some thoughts as they came to me.

I had my heroine’s name and face clear. I knew her angst and her mission. And I felt her need to have her story told. My hero made an appearance that day, too. He told me his name but not much more since he was in a hurry. He was rushing to rescue a loved one from danger and on the way had bumped into my heroine.

I went to sleep that night with story ideas swirling in my head. I saw scenes play out, I heard my characters’ voices. I saw them struggle and I saw them sneak glances when each thought the other wasn’t looking. They were so real and excited – and in such a hurry – that I got right down to writing their story.

But first… I developed W’s for them from my W-Plot class. I soared from there, putting these two into terrible danger, pushing them ever closer to the edge, forcing them to push back.

And then I dropped them.

Why? What happened? All the forward motion and then BAM! A massive brick wall knocked us all down to the ground. Why?

Because I didn’t plan my W’s the way I should have. I cheated. Along the lines of the capital letter W are the various plot points each character must reach. Low points, high points, black moments and happily ever after. They have to travel, struggle from one to the other. They cannot simply step over one and onto the next. My mistake? The plot points were too connected, too close. There has to be time and space between them or the story ends before it gets going.

And so I’m forced to step back and review all I’ve done. I’ve already gone back one chapter and come up with a new plan, a new level of tension for my hero to work through. Now I need to go back to my W’s and see if I can shift a few plot points, sneak in a couple more and up the angst, torture these charactes just a tad more, make them earn their happily ever after without feeling guilty for putting them through such horror. 

Ah but that feeling of power can be all consuming at times.  

I might even storyboard the scenes from this point on, shifting them until they flow just the way I want them to.

When you hit the proverbial brick wall in your writing, what do you do to get things moving again?

I’m blogging – when I should be writing my story

I admire the writer who can wake in the morning primed and ready to write. I admire the writer who can balance home and family with quiet, private writing time. I admire the writer who can deal with real-life drama while creating some drama of her own.

I used to be that writer. Years ago. Of course, that writing wasn’t something I’d share with the world – though at the time I thought it was better than anything out there.

I’ve become more critical of my writing over the years. If a word doesn’t fit the rhythm of the prose, I’ll obsess until I’ve replaced that word with just the right one. If a tiny plot point seems out of sync with the rest of the story, it will haunt me as I make dinner, fill the car with gas, help Daughter style her hair.

So, I’m always thinking about my writing – always thinking about what comes next in the story and just how I want to say it. But I’m not always getting it down on the page. Indeed, there have been times when doing the dishes, the bills or even the yard work is more attractive to me than writing.

What’s up with that???

Methinks it’s simply part of my process. 🙁

I wrote an article not long ago titled, “Thinking IS Work”. For writers, writing is easy. It’s the planning, the precise wording, the puzzle pieces neatly fitting – the missing puzzle pieces – and the thinking that put the ‘work’ in our creative day. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking and looking for those missing puzzle pieces. Once I finally sit, the words do flow but getting from here to there… well… utter torture.

Obviously, getting the words on the page is the ultimate high for a writer – myself included. Then why do writers like myself do so much to avoid it? Maybe because of the required investment of time, energy and emotion? Writing fiction is definitely a commitment of heart and head. When I sit to write, I need to know I will not be interrupted. Only then can I immerse myself in the story and FEEL the anguish or delight my characters feel. Only then will those characters ‘speak’ to me. Only then will that depth be transferred to the page. No half-way investments. It’s all or nothing – and that can be absolutely draining.

Starting a scene or chapter is the hardest part of all for me. POV switches, change of emotion or action… all work as the proverbial brick wall in my path. However, once I’ve forced myself to just have at it and have written my way into the story – with the knowledge that I have X amount of time to myself – the words add up, the emotion roils and the scene is there in all it’s glory. At least in my completely biased opinion. It’s a wonderfully productive time that makes me wonder why I put such effort into avoiding it in the first place.

What about you? Are you a rise and shine kind of writer, primed and ready to go? Or are you a tantrum thrower who has to drag your muse, kicking and screaming as they say, to the page? What is the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest? And how to you overcome that which keeps you from plopping your butt in the seat and keeping it there until a solid day’s work is done?

 

The W-Plot is easy, I PROMISE!

When I posted the picture of my finished W-Plot worksheet in my last entry, I was afraid it might be a bit frightening. I posted it anyway, hoping that I’d explained it well enough to calm suddenly tense nerves. I don’t think I did, so I’d like to do that now… but I’ll do it without going into detail about the process since no one can (or should try to) explain it the way Karen Docter does.

The completed W-Plot worksheet looks involved because it’s an accumulation of a lot of tiny bits of information. Truth.

In order to get to the final worksheet – which I posted – all that’s necessary is to jot down an OVERVIEW of your character’s throughlines. Face it, stories start with an idea. As you spend time on that idea, it becomes more developed, even if only slightly so.

Now, if you’re like me, thinking too hard about a story before you’re ready to write it is the same as giving anesthesia to your muse. That’s why I love the W-Plot. The beauty of it is indeed it’s simplicity.

Let’s work with the hero – Where is he at the beginning of your story? At what point does he realize what he needs to do for the next 20 chapters? Is it when he learns the jewels have been stolen? Let’s go with that… that’s the high point for your hero because even though stolen jewels suck, pardon my French, he has a solid starting point. He’s got to find who stole them and why, AND get them back without getting himself killed in the process.

Now… getting from that high point (Plot Point 1) to the final high point, (Plot Point 9), is going to be a roller-coaster ride for Hero, with severe drops and slow rises. Your nine points are just highlights of his story with as much or as little detail as YOU want to include.

The reason my finished W looks so intimidating is because I’ve included everyone’s plot points there in the order they’ll occur. It’s like looking at a skeleton of my story. Everything is somehow connected but not yet filled in. THAT’s the fun part. THAT’s the part a pantser muse eagerly awaits. THAT’s when a storyboard truly becomes a treasure if you want to flesh out your W even further… with specific scenes.

Honestly, IMHO, these two tools used properly and in tandem, will make writing/telling/enjoying your story that much easier. Oh, and in case you’re not convinced… a completed W, when organized the way Karen explains, makes writing the dreaded synopsis easy as pie.

Truth.

Plotting

So… as many of you know… I’m a writer. Within the writing world, I’m what’s known as a “pantser”, meaning, I’m not big on plotting out an entire story before I write it. I’ve tried it that way and have lost all the excitment of putting fresh words and ideas onto the page.

There was one method I truly enjoyed, though, and that was the storyboard. I’d taken an online workshop with Shelley Bradley and it was amazing. You can be an avid plotter or a simple pantser and still use her method. What it does is organize your thoughts. As they come to you, you jot them down in as much or as little detail as you want (on a post-it) then slap them onto the storyboard in the spot you think they will fit. Of course, there is more to it than that, but after a while, it seems that easy. It’s also fun to see the post-it’s pile up. They’re color-coded, too, so that makes it a super visual tool.

Here’s one of my completed storyboards – ain’t it purdy? 🙂

Storyboard

Another exciting method I learned, use and highly recommend, is the W-Plot. What an amazing tool. Karen Docter gives that workshop, and I can’t say enough about it. Basically what it does is help outline (don’t shudder at that word, it’s not really an “outline” but more like a “highlight” of…) your plot using only nine major plot points for each main character. It’s much easier than I’m probably making it sound, and it is so very worth it.

A finished W might look intimidating at first (even second and third) glance… BUT… I can’t stress enough how simple it truly is. Of course, it forces you to think, but the panster in me stuck around for the entire process without one fainting spell. Truth!

Now, prepare yourself…

Here’s what a finished W looks like with all the plot points (36 total – 9 for the Hero, 9 for the Heroine, 9 for the Villain and 9 for the romance) highlighted in a different color.

Completed W-Plot

See how each plot point in it’s proper place makes the story flow?

If you have the opportunity to take either or both of these classes, I HIGHLY recommend them. Of course, I’m a workshop junkie, so there are many more workshops I can tell you about. Until then… check these out and tell me what you think.

What about workshops you’ve taken? Which ones do you have safely tucked into your writer’s toolbox?

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