W-Plot Revisited

Hi, my name is Debbie and I am a Pantser. Yes. I know. What is a plotting tool doing as the title of a post about a pantser? Well… this particular tool is one that works for both the detailed plotter and the seat-of-her-pants pantser.

I’ve talked about the W-Plot in the past and if you’d like to read my first take on it, you can find it here. But for now, I’d like to tell you about what I now consider to be the best use for this tool – it forces a writer to dig deeper. Believe it or not, even for a pantser, tha’s a good thing.

As a pantser, I find it impossible to write a detailed outline or synopsis of my story before my story is written. It’s not that I can’t come up with plot points or the emotions connected to them. It’s the way those pre-planned plot points and emotional responses make me feel once they’re on the page. I feel as if the story has already been written. There’s nothing left to do. My muse settles in for a Rumpelstiltskin nap and I’m left wondering what happened to the thrill of creating – and writing – this new story.

As a panster, the W-Plot helps me to rearrange the vague scene ideas I have at the story’s planning stages. I have a short list of events I know will happen in the story. I see them in my mind. My muse decides just how much to give me and gives nothing more. It’s a tease. This little muse knows how to keep me interested. Every muse is different and, I am convinced, every muse is like Tinkerbell. Hard to capture, easy to piss of and just bitchy enough to keep you on your toes. So, don’t push the muse or she’ll give you the silent treatment, and trust me, that’s the last thing a writer wants.

That’s where the W-Plot comes in.

Digging deeper for the W-Plot is not as strenuous as it sounds. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there, scattered on your table, but you can’t see the full picture they’ll create. You start placing the corners, the frame pieces. Each of the remaining pieces fit within that frame but where? How? What if one piece is missing? You must handle each piece, turn it around, match the color, the shape. One edge of one piece might fit against the frame, but when you start adding other pieces, suddenly you realize that piece is in the wrong spot. You thought it would work, but it doesn’t.

In a puzzle, that’s not such a big deal. You just take that one piece out and replace it with the correct one. In a story, it’s like major surgery. You can’t just move a scene around. Every scene must lead to the next. If a scene can be so easily removed, it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. It must serve a purpose. The scenes before and after it will need revisions. The original scene will need them too because now it has to fit into a new spot within the story. Transitions have to be smoothed, information not yet disclosed must be removed, uncovered clues can no longer be a mystery. Of course it can be done. It’s done all the time. But it’s a lot of work.

How does this part of the W process help a pantser? By allowing the pantser a glimpse into the story without a full reveal.

The W-Plot gently guides the muse through the story. What is the character’s story goal, what does s/he want to happen in this story? The question can be answered in one sentence or two paragraphs. Whatever works for the writer. The beauty comes as the various W points are addressed – what event becomes the first obstacle to the goal? No details necessary. Just the idea.

While working my current W, I realized the flow of my simple plot points didn’t work the way I’d imagined. Each was worthy of the characters and the story, but their sequence did little to up the tension. And when writing romantic suspense, tension matters. A lot.

On the W template, I rearranged my one-sentence plot points until the ebb and flow of story worked the way I wanted it to. And yet, the story itself – and all of its surprises – have not yet been disclosed. I have built my puzzle frame and sorted my pieces. I still can’t see the whole picture but I know what I have to do to make it appear. I have all the pieces and, most importantly to me as a pantser, I’ll still have the thrill of building the picture one small piece at a time.

2 Responses to W-Plot Revisited

  • I’m a pantser too. Even the W plot is too much for me. I really envy those who can write a detailed synopsis.

  • I hear you, Beth. It’s difficult to find the right ‘plotting tool’, especially when plotting isn’t your thing. One of my chapter members is an avid plotter who writes a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, with dialogue, emotional arcs, setting and more. It works for her but if I did that, my muse would rebel and I’d never get the actual story down. It would feel like it had already been written.

    How do you plan your stories? Are they fluid in your mind and you just have at them or do you do some kind of preliminary organizing?

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