Partial Plotter

Posted: August 14, 2011 in Writing

I mentioned in my last entry that when I write, I put together a loose skeleton of the plot, usually one to two sentences per planned chapter. I have the beginning, end and some major plot points along the way that I think I will need to get where the story is going. Depending on who you talk to, I am what is called a Plotter.

There are two schools of thought on writing. Sitting down at the keyboard and writing whatever comes into your mind next (writing from the seat of your pants) or plotting out every detail of the story down to the dialog. Usually if you have any plotting whatsoever, you are considered a plotter, end of story. I take a little umbrage with that personally. I like to think I blend the two, hence I’m a partial plotter.

I will use two examples of famous authors to further my point. Stephen King, in his book On Writing says that he never plots ahead for what is going to happen in the story. He simply sits down to write and sees where the characters take him (this is not to say that King never edits and changes story points for clarity, but editing is an entirely different monster than the initial writing). Terry Brooks plots out everything, as he talks about in his book Sometimes the Magic Works. I actually spoke with author Bob Mayer about Mr. Brooks at a the Pikes Peak Writers conference and he told me Brooks continues to elaborate and add detail to his outlines until they become the finished story. This is almost a form of editing to me, except Brooks doesn’t add elements to his original outline, just continues to add details and dialog to the outline until it is a fully fleshed-out story.

As I have said previously, my outline is loose. I know where I am going to finish and I have a basic path of how to get there. This works well for me and my writing. I think that is the most important point to make in the discussion (unfortunately, sometimes a debate) on plotting: there is no single best style. However you get the initial story on the page is what’s important. People can debate the merits of King’s writing versus Brook’s, but I won’t. They have both influenced me as a writer in different ways. However, no one can argue that they are both successful. They are extreme examples of each side and both give the writer what he needs to produce his story.

As writers, we have to play with this to figure out what works best for us. I actually tried writing my second book with nothing more than an idea of where the story would end and where I was starting. It was horrible, both the attempt to write and the writing itself (it was only my second novel after all). It took me MUCH longer to write that second book until finally, about halfway through, I sat down and sketched out a skeleton for the rest of the book. Suddenly, everything was clear in the novel and I wrote the second half much faster (and better, despite it sucking) than the first half. The plotting part gave me a trail to follow to get to my final destination, but did not prevent me from taking any side paths that led to other parts of the story I had not planned on or foreseen.

To me, this is the way most writers put their story together. They have a plot of some kind figured out ahead of time, but as they write, they incorporate the new elements that are produced in the process of transferring the story from their mind onto the screen or paper. It took a little playing around with, but I found what works best for me. Do you know what works best for you?

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