Writing: why plotting is good for me

I’ve touched on this before.  I’m a plotter.  Not everyone is, and that’s fine.  One of my writer friends tells me that if she knows what’s going to happen in a scene, she doesn’t write it.  The surprise element is gone, and it’s too boring to bother with.  But the opposite holds true for me.  If I write by the seat of my pants (like my pantser friends), I’m always struggling to come up with new scenes and new ideas and trying to sequence them together.  I feel like I’m blindfolded and “feeling” my way from one scene to the next in my story.

When I started work on my third Fallen Angels novel, I sat down to scribble out the main idea for the story.   After that, an opening scene came to me.  Since this is a sequel, I knew the main characters, but I made character wheels for the new characters who’d be in this book.  I played with and discarded several turning points for the main plot before I settled on two major ones, and I knew the ending.  Sometimes, that’s all I’ve got when I start a book–the inciting incident, set up, two turning points, and the ending.  But when I put my fingers on the computer keys to write these basics for Enoch and Voronika, plot points just kept coming to me.

My writing muse smiled on me.  Thank you, Muse!  When I got done, I had twenty-seven plot points for the novel.  I’d write one, and the next one would pop into my mind.  The what if’s led from one scene to the next.  Awesome, because in my ideal world, I like to have one plot point for each ten pages of manuscript.  Just an average.  Some scenes or chapters are short and some are long, and sometimes I sneak two scenes into one chapter.  And usually, when I write, new scenes spring from things my characters do that I could never think of in advance.

This is NOT my typical brainstorming session, but I’ve learned that no two books are ever alike.  I fight with some books, trying to bring them to life, and others are like a gift that makes plotting them easy.  This one was a gift.

I was so happy, I told one of my writer friends about it, and she shrugged.  “That would ruin the book for me,” she said.  But one thing I’ve learned about my own writing style is that if I have a sense of direction, my characters actually surprise me more.  I look at my notes and know what needs to happen in a scene, and I think I know how I’m going to accomplish that, but then my characters whisper, “But what if I did this instead?”  And if it doesn’t change the direction of the story, and it’s better than what I came up with, I let my characters have their way.  And almost always, their way has more conflict and more interest.

For me, if I don’t have to think about the basics of writing, then I can concentrate on adding more drama and depth.  Having plot points frees my imagination to explore how to get the maximum punch from each scene.  And you’d think, with twenty-seven plot points, I wouldn’t hit snags or worry about soggy  middles.  But I’ve never found that to be true.  Somehow, somewhere, all the plot points and subplots tie themselves into knots, and what looked so neat and tidy on paper clusters into a giant mess that my mind tries to hide from.  My pacing bogs down into a morass of confusion, but I know that if I follow my guideposts, I’ll eventually slog in the right direction and hit solid ground.

Each writer has to find what works for him or her.  But I’m a champion for plot points.  I’d rather travel with a map than follow the sun and stars and hope I’m going in the right direction.

(Just want to let you know that I won’t write a blog next Sunday.  My friends are coming to my house for an Oscar Party.  I’ll be cleaning and cooking and having fun.  But I’ll be back the Sunday after that.  And if anyone has any topic they’d like me to write about, leave me a comment, and I’ll give it a shot.)




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