Friday, May 28, 2010

Plotting or Plodding Along

. Friday, May 28, 2010

There seems to be a great divide between writers who are pro and anti plot. Both sides have their reasons for their anti and pro status, and both are sure that their way is the right way. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ve written with and without a plot and both work.

The reason I choose to plot before writing now is simple: my goal is to support myself with my writing, and do this, I need to produce a finished product by deadline. With the use of a plot, I have a better chance of meeting that ever-looming deadline.

Having a fully functional plot keeps me focused on the finish line—that last line of my novel. Plot keeps me from feeling as if I’m just plodding along with no end in sight. Most importantly, plot helps me look beyond my current manuscript to the next one in the series.

There are a lot of plotting tools out there, and I think I’ve probably read/studied/tried them all. Years of frustration have passed before I learned to make plot work for me instead of working to conform to plot. What finally clicked for me was creating Scene and Sequel Chains.

If I figure out four points about each scene than I don’t have to plod through the book like a human stumbling through the dark:

POV: Whose Point of View should this scene be written in? Sometimes it’s a toss up, but I always pick someone before moving forward.

Goal: What is the goal of the POV character? Throughout the story, the POV Character’s Goal may change, but she should enter the scene with a specific goal in mind.

Obstacles: Who or what stands between your POV character and their goal? The more obstacles, the more conflict. The more conflict, the more meat you (and the reader) can chew on throughout the story.

Hook: Ending your scenes with a good hook doesn’t just propel the reader forward, it propels the writer forward as well. A hook can be a disaster, a potential disaster, a surprise, or even just some good foreshadowing that will get your and the reader’s heart pumping and fingers turning the page because you/they have to know what happens next.

That’s it! That’s all I need to know to write my first (and second and third…) scene: POV, Goal, Obstacles, and Hook.

Now, I usually (but not always) follow up my Scenes with Sequel. Sequel is where the Hook is explored by the POV character through Response, Problem, Decision.

Response: How does your POV character emotionally and physically respond to the Hook from the previous scene?

Problem: What actions can your character take to resolve the Hook? And what are the potential problems her actions could create?

Decision: Your character’s Decision will be her Goal in the next scene.

Here is an example of using these plotting tools from a scene in my novel First Heat:

Scene One

The Texas pride’s next shifter cat leader, KISSA ALASSANE, spent her childhood watching her parents literally take swipes at each other. Their vicious arguments are legendary among the prides. As she prepares for her first heat, her top priority is choosing a mate she can love and trust.

With his sexy French accent, VENOR BRUN seems like the perfect choice: smart, honest, gorgeous, and crazy about her. But when she learns that he’s hiding things from her – and maybe even cheating – she follows her head instead of her heart and removes him from her list of potential mates.

A friend since childhood, TAN GABBARD, seems like a doable alternative. She resolves to choose him as her mate even though she doesn’t love him. But on the day of her first heat, her sire, LATIF, escorts in the eligible males and, to her disbelief, Venor is among them while Tan is not.

Furious at her parents’ manipulation, she chooses to let her heat pass without mating the three times required to seal the mate bond. But when Venor touches her, she can’t deny her cat instinct and her all too human heart, she names Venor as her choice.

POV Character: Kissa

Goal: To choose Tan as her mate

Obstacles: Her parents removed Tan from the list and replaced him with Venor.

Hook: She chooses Venor as her mate but plans on finding a way to dump him ASAP.

Sequel One

With their cats so close to the surface, their mating is both beautiful and violent, but the afterglow dims all too soon. Emotionally incapable of confronting him about his deception, Kissa retreats to the temple and informs her dam, GENET, that she will not complete the mating ritual with Venor. Unable to force Kissa, her dam confines her to the temple for the duration of her heat.

Response: Kissa regrets her decision and leaves Venor to hide in temple until she can get a message to Tan.

Problems: She’s still in heat, which makes planning difficult. Alice slows down her planning. The incense drug slows down her brain.

Decision: Sleep and ask Alice to take a message to Tan in the morning.

So Sequel is Response, Problem, and Decision. Simple. Right? That’s why I like these plotting tools. They are how I (and I suspect many writers) naturally write. Using these outlining tools reveals the big picture and keeps me on track. Now, that’s not to say that while I’m writing, the Goal, Obstacles, Hook, Response, Problems, and Decision don’t change.

They do. My characters’ needs are always the priority. And when they want to do what they want to do, I don’t argue or try to pressure them into behaving as I planned in my plot. Again, use your plot. Don’t let your plot use you.

If this type of plotting looks like it will work for you, I highly recommend that you purchase Dwight V. Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer. Out of all the books on writing I’ve read (and there have been dozens), Swain’s has been the most helpful to me, and this type of plotting is expanded on in great detail.


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