Now that I’ve stepped beyond the “we don’t want your book” response from my publisher, it’s time I dove back into the part of this whole business which is the most fun and the reason d’taire for driving oneself crazy, writing. This means starting from ground zero and working my way toward another finished book, and ground zero for me is plotting.
I like plotting. It’s one of the most enjoyable elements of the process for me, where I get to toss about ideas and develop a new plan of action. My brain, for whatever reason, really gets into this aspect of writing. Part of it is taking this massive cloud of ideas, thoughts, characters, events, settings, and the like, and plucking them out of the ether and creating something coherent and enjoyable out of it. It’s like digging into a big box of legos with all sorts of interesting pieces, pulling out ones you like and seeing what sort of thing you can build. I believe this process is something that appeals to most writers, but for some, they get it through the actual writing of the story, whereas a writer like myself prefers doing it before any words are actually on the page. If it were a house (one of my favorite analogies), I start from the foundation and work my way up, whereas other writers work on completing a room before moving on to the next, working from the inside out instead of the outside in. It’s all a manner of perspective, with the goal being the same, just the methods differing, with no one method being any better than another, just more suited to each particular writer.
My plotting starts with a paragraph idea of the story, which expands to a general synopsis of a page or two. It’s very broad stroke, just getting the general lay of the land so to speak. The purpose here is to get down the beginning, middle, and end, and a bit of info about the main characters and what the conflict is, both in action and character. Then…it sits. I stare at it a lot. I mull over ideas related to what I’ve come up with. I see where these general threads might lead. I wonder how the plot will move from beginning to middle and middle to end. I do this when I’m in the shower, doing things at work, when I lay down for bed, and so on. It’s a bit like random word association. If I start with “this” what’s a potential next step? If I want to get to “that,” what sorts of things are going to have to happen. At the end of the synopsis, I begin to write down these things, paragraphs, short blurbs, lists, that begin to fill in the meat of the story. Here’s an example paragraph from my current plotting:
In the Upper Forty, Rhoan’s investigation leads to the involvement of one of the 40th Precinct’s detectives, Stan Brickman. A hard-nosed, no bullshit man, Brickman has no love for the strange Mer, especially when it comes to meddling in his part of town. Things get complicated however, when he discovers there may be something to Rhoan’s digging around, and of course, there’s the problem of June Garwood. It figures she would end up mixed up in this mess, and now he feels responsible to make sure she keeps her nose out of places that might get her killed. After all, he did promise her mother he would be around for June if the need came up. The past always seems to catch up to you sooner or later, and Stan really wishes he had left well enough alone when he got involved with June’s mother back in his days on the water. And it certainly doesn’t help matters when the daughter has the same appeal as the mother had.
This is a brief description of one of the major characters and how he gets involved and why. I currently have about three pages of this stuff. Doing this allows me to begin to coalesce the story in my head. I’m very logical, step oriented in this process. Initially, my goal here is to cement the anchors of my story: the beginning, the middle, and the end, with the turning points inbetween those. Once this is done, it’s time to lay down the outline, a simple format that looks something like this:
- Elements to include
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 10 (turning point 1)
- Chapter 15 (midpoint)
- Chapter 20 (turning point 2)
- Chapter 25 (crisis point)
- Chapter 28 (climax)
- Chapter 30 (ending/lead-in)
That’s the basic starting point for me. It’s sits there, open on my computer at all times, which I look at off and on during my freetime, and I gradually work my way through, starting with chapter one and progressing my way through until I have a sentence or three for every chapter. At the point I will begin to put words on the page. What I want to do will be cemented pretty clearly in my mind from start to finish. Of course, things can change, sometimes things don’t work out on the page quite like I’d envisioned, but for the most part, what I plot is what I write. The biggest benefit to this is that I have little editing to do, at least structurally, when I’m done. This is a good thing for me because editing is not my strong suit. Something I need to get better at.
Anyway, that’s a little glimpse at my process of plotting, where and how I begin my stories. Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t, but hopefully it’s at least interesting to read. Happy reading/writing everyone!