Plotting questions? Just ask.

Salutations darlings!

Ongoing updates:

  1. Cross-stitching goes well. I’ve finished Rick’s arm now and started Cog’s ear. This project has also inspired my first foray into flash fiction, which just might get its own post later, so, neat!
  2. Anxiety has dropped to pretty much nothing. Sometimes I feel like I’m just barely clinging to my claims of being excited about what’s up next from my Back in the saddle post, and sometimes I worry it’ll come back, but generally I’ve been on an uphill (in a good way) slope.

The rest:

Starting work on my next book, something wasn’t clicking. I’d already written two versions, one 40 pages long, one 24, neither of which is much good, both of them rambling, inconsistent and aimless. Finally taking the time to figure out just what it was, I realized (or let myself admit) the problem lay/lies in these three snags.

  1. I don’t know where I want this to end.
  2. I have several plot points that I’ve come up with that I want to hit and no clear way to connect them.
  3. I’m not exactly sure just what it is I want to say.

The following is two options I tried to fix it, and the third one that did.

Option 1: Plot it out, step by step.

Most of my writing is done with minimal plotting. I come up with a beginning and end, not necessarily in that order, think up a few key markers, not necessarily before I’ve started, and fill in the gaps as I go. Unfortunately, not knowing my ending, this method had little success. Nor did my back up methods (usually used for hashing out the gap fillers) of writing it out point by point or sitting and/or pacing to think and/or talk it out. Again, with no goal in mind, going step by step just didn’t work. Even when I came up with cool ideas for plot points, with no aim for what comes after, none seemed any more effective, useful or meaningful than any other path I could choose. Aside from time saved in writing, it was no better than my current ambling. On the plus side, I will say I developed a highly Sherlock-ian habit (in addition to the pacing, though I had that before) of holding my fingers in front of my face while I think, which is obviously flat out rad (photo credit).

Sherlock
This is what I look like when I write.

Option 2: Writer’s dice.

You can find out more about writer’s dice here, but essentially you get a die, and each side represents a word: “but”, “or”, “and”, “as”, “if” or “so.” You roll the die, and then use the word to supply a transition between your plot points. The goal is to protect your plot from being all about THEN, THEN, THEN, useful indeed. It’s also a good way to check that your plot has variety if you go back and look for those words after the fact. I tried using mine a little as a self-check during option one attempts, but unfortunately for me, using it in that manner is not enough to propel a plot, and though a great idea for a short story or improv, with this plot, the length and the characters involved, I really wasn’t willing to leave it all or mostly to chance.

Option 3: Ask characters questions. Freeflow solutions.

When options one and two didn’t work, I started taking a closer look at what I had. I started questioning why I had made certain decisions and looking at just exactly what any of them actually did. I saw much of what I’d written was just writing for writing’s sake, and subsequently decided it was time to start paring things down, looking at what I had in both versions to see what could be saved. I looked up some resources on plotting (including this incredibly helpful article on whether or not to outline in advance), and then began working on a sort of flowchart hybrid of outlining and free writing, writing my “opening challenge” scenario in the top left corner of a page in my sketchbook and branching off possibilities (including the ones I’d already written) to see which ones could survive. The free flow nature of it freed me up to explore more options than the point by point approach, the visual mind-web aspect helped me see more clearly which ideas connected well or fizzled out, and the process of writing it down before hand helped me save time over constant re-writings.

That is, until I got stuck. I knew the step after the next one for each branch, but couldn’t quite find the connector, much like the problems I’d previously faced with the failures of option one. Frustrating. Until I realized that, given the format, it might be just as reasonable to start a new set of branches, growing the opposite way. I could start at the end and work my way back! If I had an ending…which I didn’t. Foiled again, I started asking myself why. Why didn’t I have an ending? Why, no matter how hard I tried, couldn’t I figure one out?

That’s when I realized I hadn’t asked. When so much of my work is based on questions, answers, hypotheticals, morals or lessons, it can be surprisingly easy to forget that I’m really working with (at least close enough to) people. I’d spent so much time figuring out what these characters and their relationships represent or are meant to show that I hadn’t asked any of them what they wanted to do. Sure, as the writer I’m given a certain amount of authority to take them places or set them up, but as I’ve said before, my main purpose is to be their window. Once you have a character they start to take on a life of their own. That means the things that motivate them as much as what you throw at them drives the story. It was time for me to ask.

Since then I’ve already narrowed down what I can do, focused what I want to say and gotten a better idea of the shape the world I will have when the rest of the story is through. And, perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve been surprised. No matter what you think you know about your characters, there’s always more to know, much unexpected.

Now, I haven’t figured it all out yet. I still don’t have answers from some characters, am still working out an ending and still need to find some more markers, but with my characters’ help and this super helpful new flow chart way of plotting, well, I think there’s hope for us yet.

Takeaways:

Spend time with your characters.

Being a writer is so, so cool.

3 thoughts on “Plotting questions? Just ask.

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