Friday, April 20, 2012

a pantser turns plotter?

Preamble: First, I'm posting this while watching Austin Powers with the family (remember that flick? still uncomfortably funny after all these years), so imagine the title of this post posed in a Dr. Evil voice.

Second, yeah, playing around with the new Blogger templates again. Like? Hate? Feedback appreciated.

Okay, so the science fair-looking set up to your left is my very first ever plot board for a new WIP. Understand, I have never been a fan of the outline. As I explained to a writer friend the other day, the 3-Act structure feels very contrived to me. The literary equivalent of a Spanx garment--you know, squeezing the goodies into a shape deemed commercially viable? And, you know, having spent the last 22 years in Portland, I'm a free-flowing type. A wither-thou-goest with the goodies.

Well, friends, I'm trying something new. I'm taking my high concept YA idea and plotting the fuck out of it. Every chapter, every scene, in service to rising action and carefully constructed reveal. Those hearts, the pink ones? That would be some sort of crucial interaction between the two main characters. The white hearts are crucial interaction between secondary characters. The stars? Reveals. The main plot point of the chapter. And the sticky notes indicate chapter synopses.

So I'm 100 pages in, which translates to the end of that left-most column under ACT II, and I have to say, I'm not hating it. In fact, I'm sort of like a newly reformed meat-eater with my "I've seen the light and I'm never going back to eating flesh" sort of sanctimonious superiority. Why? Well, to start, there are infinitely less choices, and so the writing goes faster. I'm moving toward something as I tap tap tap my sentences, one following the other in service of the next big thing. As opposed to my usual discovery process, where I wander down the dark hallways of my mind, a blind girl being led by the hand to ... what? A vampire? A witch? An evil stepmother?

It's like having GPS, you know? Those little stars and hearts (I had, in my hand at the store, pony-head post-its, but I put them back. I mean, I had to draw the line somewhere). There's less going on in my head: less chaos, less confusion. Which leads, I hope, to deeper focus in the scene itself.

But I admit, my loving this plot board method could be totally premature. Tap me on the shoulder a month from now, when I'm rereading these crafty passages. I might very well be in self-loathingville. I admit to often being prematurely zealous about this and that. But meanwhile, I've got the Nikes on. I'm just doing it. Fake 'til I make it. Running up that hill. You? Plotters? Pantsers? What say ye? (If you can figure out the comment functionality on this new Blogger template).

P.S. Austin Powers is over, and now it's Hangover on the TV. Disturbingly, my 13-yr-old knows it by heart because he's watched it eight times.


  1. I like the fancy new blog format. It does tricks when you open the page.

    The plot board is fabulous (though I think the ponies would have been a good addition) and I can see how helpful it must be to keeping the story on track. Like you, I get wildly excited about things before they've proven themselves (I'm looking at you, Scrivener) but if you're this far along in the draft and the plot board is working for you, I think you may be onto something.

    I've tried both plotting and pantsing, but I think I fall somewhere in between. What works best for me is having a beginning, midpoint, and end more or less in mind, and outlining each scene in detail just before I write it.

    After I finish the first draft, I dismantle the fucker and start all over.

    1. I can relate to the taking the fucker apart and starting over thing, Averil. In my various pantsing escapades I've changed first to third person, killed and invented new characters, unkilled and rekilled characters--I'm exhausted just recounting the variety and severity of trespasses I've inflicted on my drafts.

      So-- update. Yesterday, this half-baked reveal I thought was crucial due to its "dangerousness" came up very naked (in that Emperor way) as I wrote towards it. My lesson: just 'cuz something makes me uncomfortable doesn't imbue it with unflinching edginess. In this case, I determined the idea was, indeed, half-baked. The takeaway was, I hadn't written it yet--it was still a sticky note on the plot board. All I had to do was peel it like a scab and scribble in a replacement!

    2. Anonymous8:11 PM

      Keep talking. I may end up with a rainbow-colored board of my own the next time around. Added benefit: I can play darts on it if my plot refuses to conform.

  2. love the storyboard idea (but I have a special fondness for post-it notes and am a little sad you put the pony-shaped ones back). you know, whatever it takes, right? and if has you invigorated about writing then "wear the Nikes" (I think I like this better than "drink the kool-aid"'s got a healthier bent to it vs. the mass murder/suicide inference).

    the design is cool--but awkward for me in that way that new technology makes me feel stupid.

    and, of course, your 13 yr old knows Hangover by heart--wasn't he their target audience? (fortunately, 13-year-old-boy-sense-of-humor covers most male demographics, from 13 to death. and mine too. the explanation of the missing tooth at the end with the it.

    (sunday morning is doing a segment on levon helm and playing up on cripple creek and your "mother-bear" status with writers makes me think this is the perfect song to hear when commenting here.)

  3. Oh Amy, I just love you..... That is all.

  4. Averil's right, this new format does tricks, but the tricks don't mess with the ease. And I like this so much better than the itsy teeny little box that used to pop up in the upper-left corner. This new shebang gets a thumbs up from me.

    The storyboard is something I avoid at all cost. (that's the old me talking) The storyboard is something I'm embracing. (the smart new me) Even though I'm writing memoir, it helps with the timeline. Just yesterday I working away and thought, "Shit, did that happen in 1997 or 2002?" Big gap, no?? I need the timeline and key plot points along it to keep certain facts straight --- that's the only way I can write the real stuff freely. Otherwise I can spend hours swimming in a circle.

    Don't swim in a circle. That's my keen Sunday morning advice.

    And where can I find those pony post-its? I'm not kidding.

  5. Excellent advice, Teri, thank you! And I'm liking the comment functionality much better--it's more wordpressy. But then, that's the point, right?

    email me your address and I'll get the my-little-ponies to you!


  6. And then bang! You opened my eyes. I love the new look and the simple design.

    I've been a pantser and it doesn't work for me. Why it has taken me so long to figure that out, I can't say. I always seem to resist the sane, ordered approach.

    I'm so glad you posted your storyboard. xo

  7. There's fun to be had in the frame, Lisa. Swear. Climb aboard!

  8. Moses Solomon11:02 AM

    Great picture! I just downloaded it for reference. I acquired a tri-fold board, a while back, but haven't gotten around to using it, yet. Personally, I hate 3-act structure. Also, 7-part series. Maybe it's because I'm a product of the TV age, but I'm used to 4-act structure, with the big "don't touch that dial" cliffhanger at intermission. Also comfortable with 5-act'er, sort of a modified 3-act'er (1a/b, 2a/b, and 3), maybe from French grand opera(?). Anyway, I had big thoughts of using my cardboard for a giant doodle book, filled with notes and pictures of locations, clothing, experimental writing passages, and yes, plot outline. Maybe, someday. I'm using a spreadsheet for plot, for now. Chow.

    1. Ah, Moses! I saw lots of references to the 4-Act, but for this sucker, I'm also paying attention to the heroic journey, which can be squeezed pretty readily into 3-Acts (listen to me, ha! as if this is something I do all the time!). Love the sound of French grand opera though. Oui!

  9. Hi Suzy,

    I have my ponies --- they're adorable!! LOL I can't believe you'd be willing to part with them, but you can rest assured I'm already using them as markers.

    Thank you!

    P.S. Here's hoping your kitchen is coming back together ....

    1. Thelwell Ponies have been a weird part of my life since I was a kid--we'll have to discuss this over cocktails some day! Glad they found their way to you, Teri!

  10. I love this! I'm a total and complete pantser, but writing plot points, notes, directions, etc. on post-its and sticking them to the wall has *always* made sense to me. I might try to modify that process a little -- using your board as inspiration -- and seeing if I can inject a *little* more pre-plotting into my next novel. But I still reserve my full right to have no idea where the hell I'm going.

  11. Here's an update, Laura (and all)-- I'm finding the plot board even MORE useful. I've shifted a few plot points towards the rising climax, and the peel it off and stick it back on aspect of post-its makes me feel less like a loser -- less tied to the idea of making a first impulse idea stick. It puts the "P" in WIP!


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