1. BigStackPoker
    Offline

    BigStackPoker New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2011
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA

    How much of your plot do you know before you begin?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by BigStackPoker, Jun 21, 2016.

    Part of what I find daunting is the knowledge that I have little more than an idea. I've never written anything beyond a short story and I would like to try for something more.

    It would help me to know that I can do this; that others start where I am and write whole books. Is it normal to just have an idea and start writing and let the story unfold as you tell it?

    Or is a person much better served by making copious notes and outlines?

    I've been using a notebook and writing down every little thing that occurs to me, in the hopes that when I review it, I will see a story and intuitively, instinctively, know what to do.

    How do you approach it from the beginning?
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
  2. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    I'm far from an expert, but I would say it's an individual thing and you should learn from your own experience. I'm similar to you in that if I try to start writing from just an idea, I run out of steam too quickly. This time I have spent time planning and it's going much better.

    Plans don't have to be copious. In my case it was a case of making a flow chart of each character's story arc, with each chapter represented by an object on the chart. This has helped me to be disciplined and not get carried away in my desire to get to the most exciting parts, and it has therefore really helped me to write more than I ever have.
     
  3. Middie
    Offline

    Middie Member

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2016
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    For me, it really depends. I'm not a professional writer by any means, so when I do write, it's mainly just for fun during my free time. Most of my stories actually originated from a single idea, or a single scene that pops into my head, and then develop from there. When I first began writing for fun, I would begin writing with just this idea in mind, and let the plot develop as I go along. However, I often found that I would get stuck somewhere along the way, and have to backtrack in order to move the plot in a more useable direction. Now, I usually plan out at least a basic outline of the plot before I begin writing. That way, the details of the plot can still develop pretty naturally as I write, but I have a guideline to go off of that ensures I don't run into a dead end along the way.

    Different people have different styles of writing, though. I'm definitely an over-planner, and often end up with tons of information that will never even make it into the story, while others seem to write better in bursts of inspiration, where even they don't always know what's going to happen next.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
  4. BigStackPoker
    Offline

    BigStackPoker New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2011
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    I guess it's good to know that different things work for different people. Thank you both for your insight! I think it will be helpful to see what works for others and see what I can incorporate.
     
  5. Necronox
    Offline

    Necronox Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2015
    Messages:
    131
    Likes Received:
    85
    Location:
    Victoria, Australia
    As stated before, it's very individual, I once talked to someone who disliked the idea of having any form of plant, "restricting creativity" she described it as. I personally already know most of my subplots and almost the entirety of my plot, but I am finding myself changing things, even if minor, as I write...
     
  6. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    If it helps, here's how I've planned my novel. I've blurred out the text. The clouds at the top each contain a character name, and each character has a colour assigned. Each box represents a chapter. As the characters intertwine and separate, their colours blend. The ticks next to some of them indicate that I have written that chapter (not that it is finished though - editing is still needed of course).

    This isn't finished - there are more characters to add, and the two on the right have not yet finished their planned arc. What you can't see yet is that those characters on the right will need to complete their arc after the two on the left, as their actions indirectly impact on the other characters. So their final box (the last chapter they are in) will be beneath everything else.

    IMG_0945.png
     
  7. DeadMoon
    Offline

    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2014
    Messages:
    756
    Likes Received:
    441
    Location:
    fargo, ND
    The more I write the more I see the need for an outline or at least figure out some of the major events to word toward. Outlines can always be changed alone the way if you think of another direction along the way anyhow.
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    All of it... or as much as I can work out without going absolutely mad.

    Yes, all the time.

    Some people (affectionately called 'pantsers') do it this way, but there are other ways if you would feel more comfortable using signposts. (more about that below)

    That helps, too. Some people make notes before they start, continue to make notes while writing and more notes before starting rewrites.

    As for outlines, I find it more helpful to lay out a plot structure before writing an outline. (again, more on this below)

    Perhaps not intuitively. I think this is one of the big misconceptions about writing (or any other art form, come to that). Writing is 10% (or less) inspiration and the rest is work, showing up every day and doing the job until it's done. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise or you'll feel inadequate before you even start and quit without trying.

    Before you actually start writing, it'll help if you have some guidelines, something to help you work out your process. To that end, I recommend two books:

    1. Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! will help you learn about story structure(s) and how they work (I recommend the second one in his series, too, because it shows lots of examples and how they fit the plot points he worked with).
    2. Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer goes over how to handle things down at a prose level.
    Here's what I would recommend for a getting solid start on a story:
    1. Start with making notes (you're already doing this, so points to you) and keep making notes throughout; never trust anything to memory because you'll end up trying to hold too many ideas in your head at once and lose most of them.
    2. always carry a notebook and if not, get a voice recording app for your phone (then transcribe from it when you get a chance).
    3. work out a 15-point beat sheet a la Blake Snyder. Don't shortcut things here. It'll take a while to wrap your brain around all the ins and outs of this step, but it's worth it.
    4. Using Swain's motivation/reaction units and scene/sequel building blocks, work out on index cards how your main character gets from one predicament to another while pursuing his/her goal. Don't worry about getting this 100% right first time because you'll revise over and over until it feels right and, to you, has a logical flow.
    5. From the index cards, write an outline. Use prose rather than bullet points (your bullet points were on the index cards).
    6. Once you're happy with the outline (and I just picked this up this morning from another thread on here) start with an interesting character doing something interesting in an interesting place while having an interesting feeling.
    7. Follow your outline... unless you come up with better scene/sequel ideas along the way. In that case, revise your index cards, then revise your outline, assess where you are with the overall story and start writing again.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
    Nicoel, hawls and Brindy like this.
  9. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,528
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    Often I start with an idea, a situation or interesting scene.

    Then I work with it, and begin to devise a plot, and this determines if the idea has legs enough to merit a story, or if it's something more appropriate for a novel.

    Then I plot or outline. Where will the story telling start (the beginning, which might alter a bit) and how I anticipate it will end (which could change). Then I identify major plot points or events along the way (sort of like mile markers to reach). Of course the outline isn't written in stone, but it helps me move forward and also keeps me away from tangents and a lot of revision later on, in the further drafts.
     
    Gawler likes this.
  10. Gawler
    Offline

    Gawler Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2014
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    144
    Location:
    Australia via Hawaii via Australia via England
    Very much what I try to do. Know how my story starts and ends. The important events along the way and develop the characters as they move from major plot point to major plot point.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  11. Brindy
    Offline

    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2016
    Messages:
    404
    Likes Received:
    394
    Location:
    Somerset, UK
    Very definitely a personal thing. I know some who start writing without knowing where it will end and see where the ideas take them. I am a planner and have the whole outline, including the ending mapped out before I start. I have to know where I am heading, although I am happy to vary the chapters and cut out ideas if they don't work as initially expected. I couldn't imagine trying to work without a framework to follow.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  12. Simpson17866
    Offline

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    1,702
    Likes Received:
    1,251
    Here's something about being a planner that might surprise the Pantser crowd: I always start with a clear plan, but I've generally changed my plan by the time I'm finished ;)
     
    GuardianWynn likes this.
  13. joeh1234
    Offline

    joeh1234 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2016
    Messages:
    128
    Likes Received:
    86
    I sat down with the intention of writing a love story 18 chapters in there have been 7 murders, and my main character is becoming a private detective lol
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  14. hawls
    Offline

    hawls Active Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2016
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    198
    Location:
    Melbourne
    The perception that having a plan restricts creativity shows a lack of understanding when and how we demonstrate creativity.

    The act of writing a narrative map requires creativity. Coming up with the plot points and the beats I want to hit along the way has to be imagined. And the plan isn't set in stone. I am not going to be punished for changing my mind along the way.

    If I decide to change something in my map I'm not ambushed by a team of literary elite who confiscate my writer's license and delete my entire folder of unfinished manuscripts from my hard drive and forbid me to write ever again.

    Personally, I feel that having the freedom to use whatever tools and methods are at my disposal to write the best story I can is the exact opposite of restricting my creativity.

    Creativity doesn't demand the absence of restraints and well defined parameters. Creativity is how we use what is all around us and apply it to produce something that didn't exist before.

    Regardless of the merits of my own opinion, the actual reason I use a narrative map is so I don't get to 80,000 words and realize I've written myself into a logical inconsistency which began 70,000 words ago.
     
  15. joeh1234
    Offline

    joeh1234 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2016
    Messages:
    128
    Likes Received:
    86
    yeah but you can just explain the previous 70 thousands words as a dream :D :D
     
    IHaveNoName and hawls like this.
  16. BigStackPoker
    Offline

    BigStackPoker New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2011
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    I didn't think I would wake up to so much feedback. Thanks, all! I've read all your comments and I will follow as much of your advice as I can, including checking out suggested books.

    I was thinking it might be a good idea to write character histories for each of my characters, perhaps a short story to describe how they each came to be in the actual main story. In this, I may develop a relationship with each and have a better understanding of who they are, how they would act and speak in a variety of situations, so that each will have his/her own voice.

    I'm thinking something in the mode of Robert Jordan's New Spring where we learn all about Moiraine, Lan and Siuan, before they became heroes in his epic.

    Do any of you do anything like this?
     
  17. Middie
    Offline

    Middie Member

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2016
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    I write out my characters' histories all the time, actually. I usually end up making a timeline for each important character, with major events leading up to the start of the book so I know how they ended up where they are at the beginning. Sometimes I'll write little shorts of moments in their lives before the book even began, and I often find that helps me be able to write the characters consistently, because I understand who they are before they even show up.
     
  18. hawls
    Offline

    hawls Active Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2016
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    198
    Location:
    Melbourne
    I used to. It certainly helped me when I was starting out.

    These days I keep my character bios to a minimum:

    Name:
    Views:
    Values:
    Lesson:

    The trap with providing extensive characters histories is that you can be tempted to reveal these details even if it does not service the plot. You spent so much time and energy creating these elaborate backstories and dammit, you want people to know them.

    You'll have characters awkwardly mention facts about another character's past like, "I heard she used to travel with a circus troop and that's why she was able to do that backflip just now."

    Here is how the VVL model works:

    Views
    Your character's religious, political and social views. You don't need to have one of each. You can have three of one. These could be things like an eye for an eye, capital punishment is wrong, elves are scum.

    Values
    What is most important to your character. Things like friendship, family, honesty, respect, sharing, compassion, patience, physical strength, intelligence, knowledge, material wealth, social standing.

    Lesson
    What your character will learn through the course of the story. This need not be a positive lesson. Maybe after a series of betrayals the character learns that you can't trust anyone and you can only really rely on yourself. Or the more extreme version, that people are the worst and should all be destroyed. Maybe you have a selfish character who slowly learns to be charitable.

    By understanding how your character views the world you will understand how they will interact with it. You will have a stronger grasp of how your characters would approach any given situation. Most importantly, you will be more consistent with how you portray your characters by understanding their views and values than if you wrote out a chronological timeline of significant events in their life. Rather than thinking about what happened in your characters' pasts and then trying to work out how it affected them, start with their personality and then find creative ways to justify their attitudes.

    Having an idea of what your character needs to learn will keep you mindful of character growth and development. If you are writing a series, perhaps have an overarching lesson for the series and appropriate lessons for each book.
     
    RahnyJae likes this.
  19. Nicoel
    Offline

    Nicoel Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2015
    Messages:
    461
    Likes Received:
    330
    I see these things referenced throughout this thread, but I don't see anyone specifically explaining it so I suppose I will.

    On the forum (and in other places as well) you will come across two very common terms: pantser and planner. A planner is someone who writes notes, makes outlines, and generally plans out the story. A pantser is someone who just starts writing. They may not have an idea of where they're going, or they may have an idea or a theme, or even a certain ending in mind. The thing is, they just don't have a plan.

    The beautiful thing about writing is that both of those approaches are perfectly acceptable and normal. Someone may be strictly a pantser, or a planner. They may be somewhere in between. It's all about your personal writing style and preferences. But, if you're new to writing, I highly recommend writing with both of these styles to feel them out and to see what works best for you. :)

    Good luck!
     
    GuardianWynn and Simpson17866 like this.
  20. Son Gon
    Offline

    Son Gon Member

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2016
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    13
    Plotting it out is the "work" part of writing, and it may not be as fun but it saves you from making mistakes down the line and doing rewrites.

    Personally, I think it's a good idea to know what the point or outcome of every scene is and out it builds up to the ending.
     
  21. Zorg
    Offline

    Zorg Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sonora, CA
    I generally go into it with a rough idea for a plot. I allow for flexibility but not so much as to where it runs away from me.
     
  22. Zorg
    Offline

    Zorg Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sonora, CA
     
  23. BigStackPoker
    Offline

    BigStackPoker New Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2011
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    Thank you all again for your continued help.
     
  24. Eric Bickernicks
    Offline

    Eric Bickernicks New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2016
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    2
    I still don't get this business of being an one or the other. (planner or pantser) I like to plan - ESPECIALLY my ending. Do I ever lose my motivation to write? No. I love my ending, I NEED to get to my ending. It might've taken me months of pondering, but I won't start until I'm excited about my resolution. I'll then plan out the way points to get there.
    But when I'm actually writing, I may have something like this for a chapter outline: "something convinces the main character to go HERE." At this point I've got my pants down by my ankles and I'm hiking them up. I have no idea WHAT is going to happen to get me there, WHERE it takes place or WHO supplies the motivation. There's infinite things you can do within a chapter, but at least I know what it should be about. I'll also allow a character to take a little side trip, knowing that I'll still be on point a few chapters ahead. Oh yea, and this whole business of "I need to type X amount of words a day." If you can get your point across (for say a chapter) in 2,000 words or less, why keep droning on?
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  25. Zorg
    Offline

    Zorg Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sonora, CA
    ^^
    I apply a similar approach. I know how I want to end it and that doesn't deviate. It's a lunch bag approach: the bottom of the bag is my ending and I put into the sack what I can without it busting at the seams.
     

Share This Page