Anyone who knows me well knows that I write organically – or by the seat of my pants, if you want the honest truth.
For me the story starts with one or two characters, plus a setting and a theme. I start writing and then hang on for the ride until I reach the end. Plotting, sadly, is not my strong point. I gloss over it when I’m delivering workshops, waving airily at diagrams of Three Act or Five Act stories, and talking loftily of story arc, all the while knowing I don’t plot before I start writing.
So why am I writing a blog post about plotting? Because ultimately I do plot, but not until I’ve written the first draft. Sound a little nutty to you? You may be right… Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something I’m proud of, nor have I publicly admitted it before, but I thought it was time to come clean. I hope it might bring comfort to those who do struggle to plot the whole story before they start to write. You may judge my process to be lacking in finesse, but I don’t plan to change it any time soon. You can be assured that it works for me and it may just work for you too.
Here is the Plot Backwards Approach, warts and all:
Firstly, I sit and write feverishly until I have a manuscript about 125,000 words, finishing with: The End.
Then I print a monthly calendar for the appropriate time frame, grab a handful of coloured highlighters, a large coffee, and get comfortable. This isn’t a quick process…
I start at the beginning of the manuscript and plot the scenes onto the calendar, using colour to show the different character’s scenes or point of view.
Next I check for alignment with the Hero’s Journey. I’m a devotee of Joseph Campbell’s and Christopher Vogler’s theory on how Myths and Legends have framed modern stories. Have I hit the high and low points? Is Act One about 25,000 to 30,000 words? Does my second act contain the bulk of the action and does it end on the black moment, when all is seemingly lost? The third act should be roughly 25,000 words long to balance Act One. Does it culminate in the blackest moment when lives are truly at stake yet still leave me room for a closing chapter to wrap everything up neatly?
If I’ve ticked those boxes then it’s time to look at the character’s individual arcs. Have their goal, motivation and conflicts been laid out in the first act? Is the conflict growing, changing and deepening in the second act? By the third act it should be inconceivable that those conflicts will be overcome right up until the blackest moment when the truth is rammed home and the light bulbs flash on for my protagonists.
So far so good? Then it’s time to prune the manuscript back to around 105,000 words. If I can manage that without my editor’s help then that’s a bonus but, if I can’t, working through the structural edit will help to achieve the required brutality.
Then it’s time to consider the beat sheet and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. I was privileged to see Blake talk at a conference in America and his energy and vitality swept me away. His cinematic philosophy resonated strongly and I thoroughly recommend Save the Cat to all new writers. For me his outline helps to ramp up the rhythm of the story and ensure that the pace is moving along, leaving the reader with no option than to keep turning the page.
Lastly, I check that I have completed all the characters’ stories. If I’m leaving threads for a continuing story then it’s okay to leave unfinished business, but if it’s a stand-alone book then everyone’s arc needs to be wrapped up by the final chapter.
At about this point I usually realise I need to eat, go for a walk, and join the living again. So, you may well ask, wouldn’t it be easier to plot the story in the first place? Probably, but then I’d know the end of the story before I wrote it and where would the fun be in that?
What’s your process? Are you a plotter or an organic writer? Is your story compliant or is it a little rebellious? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
To celebrate the release of my sixth book I have six prize packs to give away. Four of them are duos of Safe Harbour and Northern Heat and one major prize is a complete set of my six books. For international readers there is a duo of e-books to be won.
To enter, leave a comment here, or share the post and/or the trailer on a social media site and I’ll double your chances!
I hope to see you throughout May at the following blogs.
5th May: http://bookdout.wordpress.com
7th May: http://auslit.net
10th May: http://deannasworld1.blogspot.com.au
12th May: http://www.jennjmcleod.com
14th May: http://ausromtoday.com
17th May: https://1girl2manybooks.wordpress.com
19th May: http://writenotereviews.com
28th May: http://australianruralromance.com
31st May: http://talkingbooksblog.net
2nd June: Wrap up and announce the winner on my blog: http://www.heleneyoung.com
The Australian Literature Review