|for plot-tards like me
I’m reading this book, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL: MAP YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS by K.M. Weiland. Have you seen it? I was attracted by the cover, the sketchy visual cartooniness of it, which mitigates the cheesy marketingish title. (Having spent years writing that sort of imperative call-to-action, I’m always leery of taking the bait).
According to Ms. Kindle, I’m 30% of the way through it, and I’m already drinking the Kool-Aid. Chapter Three, “Crafting Your Premise” has some salient advice on taking a What if … ? statement and concretizing it into a premise. Yeah, it’s basic stuff, but my mind’s such a messy place, I’m happy to step out of the classroom with the Special Ed teacher and have it all broken down for me, particularly in the connection to solidifying characters, conflict and plot.
You see, friends, I am a plot-tard. That part of a writer that bravely marches down the path of most-resistance? The conflict-seeking organ? Well, I was born without that. I’m all, can’t we just be friends? with my characters. I like hanging out with them, and who wants to hang out with troublemakers?
OYN suggests you ask questions specific to your premise and define four or five big moments that will occur in your plot. And then, you dream up at least two complications to those moments—complications that will make your characters uncomfortable. I have pantsed my way toward these ideas in the past, but only in revision, and only after fighting the urge to keep my characters problems private. I mean, I’m embarrassed for them! What if they get caught?
Last time around, I built my little three-panel plot board and sticky-noted illegible plot-points upon until it looked like a colorful skin disease. That helped me visualize the arcs and so forth, but I didn’t do the initial work on blueprinting the premise from the gate, and by the time I’d scribbled on those stickies, I was already invested in my “people,” so the premise and the elements of plot had to serve them. My forte, if I have one at all, is voice, and I like to fit story around voice. Going back to my SPED teacher, if she was any good, she’d put duct tape on my mouth until I came up with the complications to four or five big moments. It’s for my own good!
Now, I’m not saying that this remediation is appropriate for all writers. All you TAG students, you know who you are. Keep pantsing or plotting as per usual, I’m sure your natural aptitude for having darling protagonists open all the wrong doors will spring from your pen like so many frogs (do I sound bitter? Do I?), but if you stutter and drool at the mere suggestion of conflict, pick up (or one-touch) a copy of OYN.