Today is a day of new beginnings. It is the Autumnal Equinox, and so Summer 2014 waves a fond last farewell, though she’s been preparing us here in the Mid Atlantic Seaboard for nearly a month now.
And so comes this Autumn’s turn at the plate. If I had to choose from among the four seasons we get here, this would be my favorite. It is a lovely blend of two things: the whisper of the indrawn life and the call of the out of doors. Happy Fall, to all!
New beginning thoughts bring me back to the very start of this tale we are writing with a more structured/intuitive balance now. Back to the days when there were a couple of characters and a genre among bits and pieces of scenes.
How to move forward?
Thinking to Novembers past in NaNoWriMo, I told Andrea about the ‘pantsers and plotters,’ the loving nicknames for those who either write by the seat of their pants or who meticulously plot out most if not every detail.
Sitting here together on the couch today, I brought back this memory of several months ago, and Andrea reminded me of how our process started together. I was surprised when she said she was a pantser, and I was a plotter for a couple of reasons.
I thought I was mostly a pantser for years. In fact, my first finished novel sprung almost completely into my head from a picture prompt from a friend’s blog entry. It was a simple picture of a general store with an apartment overhead. From that I thought of the people living upstairs – the sounds they might hear, and their possible wish for a house as a home of their own someday. Aha: Motive! From that came everything else though I wasn’t careful with the children’s names, and they must have changed at least four times during the course of the story.
Lesson learned. I now keep a document list of names and details we might be likely to forget.
What my sister said had merit that I’d forgotten until now. I’d incrementally moved toward more preparation with at first simple plotting techniques, as I read more about tools and thought of those I’d used as a teacher. In this way, I developed more of a repertoire of strategies for structure… without even realizing it.
Back to our current book:
Andrea reminded me (once again, thankfully) that she was writing and writing the book from her intuition, and once she had an overall idea in her head, I was thinking perhaps we might start pulling it together with some kind of structure. I thought it might be helpful to see where character and place arcs were coming from and heading towards.
So here is a lazy, hazy progression of what we tried once that cat was out of the bag.
Initially, I told her about the first plotting tool I used. I numbered the page from 1 to 15. Any odd number divisible by three (as in acts) might do. On line 1, we could write how the story begins, and on line 15, we would write how we imagined the story might end at this point. Then came the fun part where one by one we alternated – fill in line 2, then line 14, line 3, then 13 working our way toward the center.
That was definitely a no go, as it was too claustrophobic for her. I could understand, so I pulled out the next trick from my bag. Let’s do three acts – and figure out what happens in each according to Joseph Campbell’s 360 degrees of the full Monomyth, to be found in his iconic work, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces.’ I was particularly fond of that structure as I’d had the good fortune to study under Professor Campbell back in the day.
Too complicated to learn, said she. And again, too claustrophobic.
Okay, that is when we decided it was perhaps a left brain/right brain tug of war. Back in the bag.
I suggested Mind Maps next, in which whatever character, place, or overall story the writer wished to develop goes in the center circle of a piece of big white paper or cardboard. I happened to have that in my bag too. From the circle came radiating connections, and each of those had spikes radiating out on their own. It helped to ask What, Where, When, Why, and How questions which brought fullness to each ray and gave the characters more depth. And she liked it. The right brain approach appealed to her… and truth be told, I liked that method too.
We did one for all the major characters and some of the settings. There was much development that we wound up using, though much eventually fell by the wayside. Still, it was a helpful exercise, and I think she would tell you that as well.
So, plotting, if one chooses to go that way as opposed to flying (writing) by the seat of one’s pants, has endless tools, and I will include two resources I read and found helpful in my writing travels in case you happen to be looking for them. They can be followed step by step or used as a springboard.
Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a combination? Please feel free to leave a comment and share your method if you like. We can never have too many tools in our repertoires.