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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Plotting, How I Loathe Thee

By Niki Turner

It's true, I hate plotting. Outlining, planning, filling out spreadsheets, laying out a map for the germ of the story  in my head before I set my itchy fingers to the keyboard. 

But there's something I hate more: Trying to figure out all those things after I've poured out a wildly seat-of-the-pants tale and need to package it up in a tidy format for submission. I promised myself I'd change my pantser ways after finishing my most recent manuscript and struggling for days to come up with all those neat little pieces publishers look for in a submission package. 

So, a month later, I've read books and blog posts and articles on plotting, listened to lessons and reviewed notes from conferences, and tested out various software programs designed to aid the process. I've made vision boards. Tacked up sticky notes. Scribbled on legal pads. Brainstormed ideas with every willing (and unwilling) family member. 
What I WANT my plot to look like in my planning stages...

Now I feel much the same way I felt when my children were small, undomesticated house apes running roughshod over all my attempts to "train them up in the way they should go." I read multiple parenting books and listened to teaching tapes by dozens of parenting experts. And then I stared at my brood of tiny children and wondered how on earth I was supposed to apply Dr. Dobson's anecdotes about his mischievous Dachsund to disciplining my kids. "Do I spank them now? Is this a spanking occasion? Or a time-out offense? I'm so confused." Try as I might, I couldn't fit my collection of unique, highly-individualized humans and their antics into any of the neat little pigeonholes I'd read about. I wanted them to be like the textbooks, and they simply didn't comply.

When it comes to plotting, I'm in the same quandary. I want it all to fit, to be clean, tidy, organized. I'm just right-brained enough that I can't leave an outline point blank, or a spreadsheet cell empty. If I start the "snowflake" method I want the entire snowflake fully fleshed out before I put a word to the page. I've swallowed all the plotting analogies hook, line, and sinker. 

You need a complete skeleton, a frame, for your story, no bones missing! 

You have to build the foundation and the frame before you go picking out the kind of knobs you want on the kitchen cabinets. 

It all makes excellent, rational, logical sense to that one side of my brain. 

But that side is not the side that actually writes. The side of my brain where the story comes from, where the characters are created, from which the words flow, that part of me finds the application of all those well-organized, practical concepts unfathomable. Impossible. It makes my head hurt. I can write and write and write for hours and leave my desk refreshed, excited, and energized. An hour or two of plotting and planning and I want to go stick my head in a snowbank. Or take a very long nap.

But as I keep learning the hard way, plotting is necessary. The number of unfinished manuscripts in my files and the Bible attest to it...
28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 
Luke 14:28-30
English Standard Version (ESV)
So back to the drawing board I go, trying to find a way to blend the practical, organized side of my head that needs to have all the bullet points and blanks filled in, with the creative, free side that wants to type with my eyes closed and just let the story flow... even if it means risking falling into one of those plot holes and having to backtrack and delete thousands of words. Maybe if I just apply a little time each day to the organized part, or if I at least keep that other side of my brain awake and aware while the story is taking shape so that I don't have to violently shake it awake when it's time to do the busywork!

Niki Turner is a writer, former pastor's wife, mother of four, and grandmother of two and a half. She has thus far been unsuccessful at coming up with catchy taglines for her writing, her purpose in life, or what she hopes to achieve in the future. Suggestions are welcome.


8 comments:

  1. Oh how I can relate, Niki! I struggle so much with plotting--although I've had to become a tiny bit better when writing on a deadline! Still, plotting is the hardest part of the process for me. I love how you relate it to your parenting style because, like you, I never could quite fit that mold, either.

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    1. That's good to know, Anne, because you seem to have it down! :)

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  2. Plotting is absolutely the hardest part of writing to me. But once it's done, I find it freeing to look at an outline and say, ok, here's what goes in this chapter. I need boundaries, I guess.

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    1. I obviously do, too! I just need to find out how to construct them in a way that is right-brain friendly. What's your method, Susie? How do you start?

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  3. You were waiting for this. I play ying to your yang. I enjoy plotting. I LOVE plotting. I plot and I have a sentence or two for every scene and then I write. THEN I do get to enjoy the freedom of letting my characters run with it.

    so Here I admit it: I wish I could team write with Niki. Because I LOVE her writing. It's so smooth and rich and amazing but I fear what would happen when i mentioned things like that P word. It's not like I could write the plot, give her the rough draft and let her make it pretty, right? ( that's not bunny trail enough, i'm sure...)

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    1. *blushing*
      You know, that's an awesome thought! Your plotting help has been a huge blessing to me! It's like going somewhere with someone who already knows the way, as opposed to traveling with the directionally challenged (me)!

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  4. I do plot, but I have to be careful not to get too detailed or I will lose all my excitement for writing the story.

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    1. We've discussed this before, I think! That's what happens to me, too. Well, if I ever actually get the whole plot down on paper!

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