Today my writers group discussed plotting. We covered everything from noting basic plot points, to graphing points of rising action to circular plots, the heroes journey and how an external journey should be mirrored by an internal journey. We discussed the way twists of a plot expose characters, how plot gives scenery purpose and movement. I explained that plot helps keep backstory from becoming the story. Most importantly we came to the conclusion that eventually, everyone must plot their novel.
Plotting is the beginning of the ‘work’ part of writing. It’s all very well to collect ideas, cuttings, photos and stimuli. At some stage all this creative collecting, needs to lead somewhere, preferably to a dynamite ending. If a plot isn’t linked, clues aren’t dropped and pieces aren’t subtly joined and related, readers feel cheated, deceived and ripped off.
For me (and coincidentally Derek Hansen whom I heard speak at a writers festival one year), the end is the perfect beginning. I never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, until I know where the story is going. The last scene in my manuscript is so clear and beautiful in my mind, that I can describe it in vivid detail long before I know the rest of the plot. Before I start, I’m longing for that ending. I don’t know where that ending comes from, I just know it’s my end goal.
So, when I was telling my group today, that I’m currently Jonah in the guts of my whale, in the process of working my way out at about fifteen hundred words a day, they had one main question. “Do you reread each day, before you start again?” I replied “No.” Then they wanted to know how I do that, how I keep on track without back checking. The answer is simple, “I’m not writing backward, I’m writing my way forward to the end of the story. I’ve got my plot points, so I know where I’ve been and I know where I’m going.” Every now and then, while writing, I’ll knock up against a previously plotted moment and have a little celebration. A mini-milestone moment. Eventually I’ll hit the last one and type ‘the end’ (maybe it will be all in celebratory , tear smeared capitals).
I am not, however, a natural plotter. I’m a character driven writer. As such, I don’t plan minutiae, I just mark the points of rising action, the climax and the end point. The funny thing is, I don’t think many people actually are natural plotters. Knowing that, I get a chuckle when aspiring writers wriggle and squirm, in an effort to avoid doing something that seems so mundane and boring as a prelude to a creative act (after all, graphs belong with mathematicians not writers). Without fail, they make excuses, tell me this is not how they work, explain that it’s all in their head and worst of all, that even though they’re a hundred thousand words in…they’re not sure of the plot yet. My response is always, “Go home. Plot your story”. Because honestly, everyone, everyone, one way or another, at one time or another, has to plot their story…and no…you are not more talented than they are.
P.S. I promised this video to my writing gang, so here it is: