Some people can begin at the beginning and keep writing until the end. I don’t happen to be one of those people. I find myself mired in the ways that the story could go, and somewhere in the middle it fizzles out if I don’t know where I’m headed. Conventional wisdom says to dump something in a sagging middle like a dead body or have aliens land, but it doesn’t always work for me.
It always returns to plot. I have less trouble with my characters getting in line. I have been taking time out this month to try to correct my plot fizzling issues. Somehow I know there must be a way to carry everything through to the end while being true to my original vision of what the novel is supposed to say (and why I don’t have aliens land on the kitchen table in my contemporary YA).
To that end, I have been trying out several different ways to see a plot through, from randomly typing out from the beginning (which is why I know it isn’t working for me) to setting everything out scene by scene (which I know runs a large risk of me taking a left turn about halfway through).
I always liked the look of traditional outlines but never thought they fit me very well. Or maybe I just liked that they had such an orderly form with the roman numerals and all the other stuff thrown in. Lately I’ve also attempted to type a bare bones summary in prose form to see where that led me. Turns out the answer was ‘in circles’. I still use that method to organize my thoughts to find connections between pieces that I’m not sure fit together but seem to have possibilities.
Then I also stumbled into some worksheets. You can find them in books, too, like First Draft in 30 Days or Book in a Month. I haven’t progressed to filling them out in order, but taking time to pour over them has pushed my thinking into that kind of system. What was the climax? What is my internal or external conflict? What else do I need to get my characters from point A to point B or what obstacle do they need to overcome in order to get to this spot?
While they can be a good tool, I’m also trying not to stuff too much into them. I like giving my characters a little room to breathe while they get through the novel. When I originally drafted Don’t Tell Your Mother I only had a vague notion of what the end was going to be, and then as I got to each segment I’d write a sentence about what the next scene would be so I wouldn’t lose my place in the story if I got interrupted. [It really is a bummer, but there comes a time I must sleep.]
I’ve also read lately about Scrivener (which I thought I had blogged about, but apparently I just looked at it) being a good tool for novelists because of the functionality to rearrange things at ease. There are other software programs that also do this kind of thing, and I’m sure each has advantages and disadvantages.
It’s going to take some time for me to perfect my method of plotting, and I might just come to the conclusion that each project takes something different and it will depend entirely on my inner vision of the story. If nothing else, I’m enjoying learning the different methods and how each might be implemented to help (or hinder) my progress.
What do you choose to use to plot novels? Have you tried other methods? What did that teach you about your writing and plotting?