I am so excited to be sharing this with you! Over the last few weeks I have been posting up pictures on instagram about how I have been revising my plot and people have been asking me to do an article about how to plot. Well here it is folks, I am giving you THREE separate articles on How to Plot Like a Pantser or 'plotansing' (PLOT- AHN- SING) for short. In this post I will talk about the initial stages of plotting your book, in the second instalment I talk about plotting scenes in a plotansing way and lastly I talk about plot revision. This may seem out of order, but there is a method to my madness!
Plotting is when you write down what happens in your story. This can be done in word, scrivener, excel or on paper. There is no set way to do this, you need to to experiment to figure out what works for you. The following shows the many benefits derived from plotting:
· I don’t get writers block because I know where I am going with my story
· I am always motivated to keep going because I know what I am aiming for
· I never forget an idea because it is already written down
· Laying it out before me lets me see everything with good perspective
· As I tick off each chapter I have done or plot point achieved I feel that my goal of finishing is getting closer
· I am never stuck for what is going to happen and allow myself room to change in the plot line
· My plot is driven by my characters, I just think ahead
· Organisation prevents stress and prevents quitting when it gets to hard
· You know how far along in your story you have come and how much longer it will take to finish
· You will be able to see any holes in the plot and rectify them
For more on Plotting v Pantsing see my debate with fellow writer Briana Morgan.
Plotting Myths Debunked
Myth no 1# Plotting takes up time when you could be writing instead.
Plotting is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deluding themselves, however that is the point of the exercise. If you put in the hard yards in the beginning you will prevent many difficulties in writing later on. If you sort out what is going to happen before you write, you have a clear direction and you will not get frustrated with your work and leave it. I found that when I was a pantser I was abandoning my WIP's all the time because I would get distracted and not write for a week and forget what happened next. If you plan everything out as much as you can beforehand, it will decrease procrastination, writers block and decrease the rate of abandonment.
I will tell you the way to perceive plotting which will simply the task and transform it from a scary monster to a mundane thing. Plotting is simply writing down what happens in your story so you will not forget. For instance, it should host enough information for you to abandon your WIP now and come back to it five to ten years later and pick up where you left off.
Myth no 2# If you plot, your book with be to contrived and constricted.
This is absolutely not true. It is the same for plotting or pantsing- if you do not let your writing be lead by your characters then your going about novel all wrong. The story line is not up to you as the writer, it is up to your characters.
The first step in writing a novel is characterisation. You need to do a lot of work on your characters and you need to know them inside out. Only then should you attempt constructing a plot, otherwise you will be making it up yourself. Your plot, like your story must be driven by the characters motivations or in result of consequences of other characters. It should be action and reaction.
My method of plotting is what I affectionately dub 'plotansing' because I know where my plot is going but I leave it up to my imagination to get me there. It is not constricting at all (at least to me). I know that my character is in place A and needs to get to place B, and on the way he/she will meet person Z. However, the setting, who Z is and how they look like etc will only be mentioned briefly at this stage but will be examined closely in Part 2 of How to Plot Like a Panster series. I will explain how I plot below.
TIP 1: Think of plotting as if it were simply writing down your ideas so that you do not forget. Do in such a way that you can put it down today and pick it up again 10 years later and carry on as if no time has passed.
What I am going to share with you now is how I plot my stories and this should not be taken as law. You can try it out and see how it goes for you and tweak it in order to make your own hybrid plotansing system. Before I start I want to explain how the Plot Like A Pantser series is set out. In my preparation stage before I start to write, I create my first plotting document on word and use that as in info dump. Then I start writing and sort out the holes to my story when I do my revised plot. This post will examine my info dumping phase.
The reason I do this is to get out my ideas initially and it does not matter if I have any holes in my plot, because it will come to me as I write. When I know what direction my story is going in I start to write, but before I type out a scene I plot out what will happen and then let my imagination fill in the details. Lastly, when I have figured out the solutions to the wholes in my plot through writing, I go back and retype my whole plot in a structured way from start to finish. This gives me the whole picture of the novel from start to finish and serves as a refresher.
Before you begin plotting you must have done extensive characterisation and research. In order for plotting to be effective you need to know all of your characters inside out. This should be done in separate documents and you do not go through the background of the world, or characters in your plot.
You need to open up a simple word document and then make the headings 'Beginning', 'Middle' and 'End'. I do not write in chapters because I find that constricting and it decreases the enjoyment in the writing process. Instead, I have sections which are stitched together or related/flow on from one another, but they have no seam which I would call a "chapter" per se. By doing it this way, you give yourself the freedom to just write without thinking, this is the perfect place I should stop for this chapter or I wonder if this chapter is too long? This is what the editing phase is for. For your first draft you need to write and do not hold back. As for determining what goes in each section, you must let your gut tell you where to put certain scenes.
Now you need to write everything that is in your mind about what is going to happen and how your characters are going to react. This should be done in bullet points to prevent you from going overboard and to keep this the bare bones. If you do it this way, when you go to write your story this will give you the space to come up with the minute details. I find that I think that I have set out a solid layout for what is occurring and when I go to write it, I am surprised by what the characters say and do.
You can include dialogue if you want to and you should include (in different colours) everything from your main plot, sub plot and any other mini stories threaded into your work. Under a bullet point where a character does something significant, I like to write in red the hidden reasons why they did it which will be revealed later to the characters.
One thing you should note, is that your plot does not need to be complete. It does not matter if it has holes in it because they will come to you as you write and discover more about your characters. Once you know what fills the hole then you can simply add it to the document. I also make comments on the side through word to remind myself to change certain things or a note to add foreshadowing in the editing process etc.
As mentioned before, this is the first phase and is really important. The moral of the story is to just get everything about your story down. This does not include backstory, how settings look like, what people are wearing etc. It should only be about what happens as all those other elements should be done in the prep stage either before or after you plot, but BEFORE you write. I will do posts on characterisation and world building in the future.
Example From My Own Plot Document
You will see, I keep it quite simple and bare. When I write the actual story, I let my imagination fill the gaps where the emotion and other visual elements should be. It doesn't need to be perfect, as you can see I have not bothered to even put capital letters sometimes or fix grammatical errors because who cares, as long as you can read it. If you are wondering what the blue is- I highlight the parts I have written, because sometimes I jump around and I need to remember what I have done and what still needs to be written. It also helps give you an ego boost when you see your progress highlighted.