In the past I’ve talked about my preferred method of plotting out a book. I don’t. I come up with the premise, a rough beginning, and a rough end. From there I just sort of let the story tell itself.
The book I’m writing now is a little different. This is a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time. I’m not going to get into details here, but sufficed to say that I’m very, very excited about it. This story has been bouncing around in my head since I was a teenager. It’s an old one that’s only just now being told. Because of the age of the story, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. To be honest, I was thinking about it while I was writing both of my previous books. I wanted to wait until I had a few more stories under my belt before doing this, but a friend convinced me it was time.
And in round about fashion, we get to the point of this post: Plotting. The first two books were new stories. They both started as short stories that I realized were actually long ones in disguise. Being new, they didn’t have any build up to them. They were fresh. Unsullied by the pen. I discovered them as I wrote them, and that’s a lot of fun. (If you haven’t done it, try it. It’s the same thrill you get from reading a new book.) This book is something of a sacred cow to me. It’s a very personal story for a lot of reasons, and I’ve been thinking about what makes it tick for a decade. There are a lot of things that must to be in the story, and thus, the story had some depth to it before it even started. (As opposed to gaining depth during the telling and editing it in where it lacked in the first draft)
So I sat down a few days ago and started writing, but not writing the book. I wrote down all the important scenes that I’ve always wanted. I got them out of my head and put them on paper. That done, I wrote a few pages on the themes and devices I wanted to use in the story.
Next I wrote detailed evaluations of each important character. (Their stories. Their motivations. Their weaknesses. That kind of thing.) Lastly, I wrote a scene by scene outline of the story. When all was said and done I had a 15k measurement of my story, and it made me giddy. Most of the information I wrote down won’t be in the book itself. It wasn’t for readers, it was for me. I wanted to have the nuts and bolts of this tale hammered out before I touched fingers to keys.
Still, I was determined not to be married to it. After all, plotting something and writing something aren’t the same. If you shoehorn in a plot that doesn’t fit the story you just end up with a word sandwich covered in shit. (I’m not going to get into the difference between plot and story here. It’s long, and English majors are regularly sacrificed to dark gods during the discussion.) With all that in mind, I sat down to start writing the whole shebang today.
In internet slang, “OMFG!” I had so much fun just writing without thinking about where the novel is going. I already know where it’s going, and it’s exactly where I want it to. Instead of thinking about future points, I already know what the frame of the house looks like. I’m just putting up walls, decorating, and bringing it to life. Not only did I have a blast doing it, but I wrote way more than I normally do in a session, and I am very well pleased with what I got down.
This is one of those times when more experienced writers will probably say, “No shit,” and click over to read something more interesting. For me, it was a huge revelation, and I bring it up for a good reason. (This is the Novice Writer’s Journal after all.) New writers need to go outside of their comfort zone. We need to explore things beyond our bailiwick. I have no idea if I would be as pleased with this project if I had just jumped in, but it doesn’t matter. This story demanded careful consideration beforehand, and I gave it what it needed.
If other writers are religious plotters, I encourage you to try writing without doing so. It’s a really fun experience. On the inverse, if you’re like me, I encourage you to try plotting something out. It’s delightful, and there’s no unspoken writing law that demands that you stay true to an outline you wrote 500 pages ago.
I ended the last post on this subject by saying that I didn’t understand how plotters did their thing. I guess I’ll end this one by saying I get it now. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone, and as always, keep writing.