Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Do you Plot It, or Pants It?

Book ButterflyA plotter is someone who makes some sort of an outline of their story before he or she sits down to write it. Sometimes this is an exhaustive document, sometimes it’s just a list of scenes or major plot points.

A “pantser” is someone who gets an idea and runs with it: no idea where he’s going, but eventually, he’ll get to the end of the story. (This is writing by the seat of the pants, hence the name.)

I’m a plotter…usually. I like to know where I’m going. It saves me tons of re-writes and I never get writer’s block.

I say “usually” because I’ve just started a novel which I’m pantsing. And it’s killing me. I can’t stand not having an outline. (I don’t know how you pantsers do it.)

The reason I’m pantsing it this time around is because I’m writing a story which is a bit outside of my comfort zone: a contemporary urban fantasy which takes place in Baltimore. I’ve got (what I think is) a fantastic idea…and I’m running with it.

What I need to do is let the idea percolate in my mind for a while before I start to write, but I’m too excited about it. I just want to get it all down on paper…but I don’t know where it’s going to end.

And that’s the problem: if I don’t know how it’s going to end, I can’t plot it out.

I’ve recently signed up for an on-line plot class to see if that could help. Unfortunately, lesson one included writing the beginning of the story (no problem!) and the end (um, problem). The class is designed to fill in the middle.

Well, I could do that on my own…

I’m toying with S. Andrew Swann’s method right now:

A four step exercise in Plot development:

1. Create a character.
2. Give this character a problem to deal with.
3. Imagine at least three different ways this particular character might possibly deal with this particular problem.
4. Pick one (or more) of these options, and imagine at least three different ways it a) wouldn’t work, and b) would make the character’s situation worse. (Short of killing off the protagonist and ending the story.)

It’s promising, and might help me out with lesson one of my online class. With some luck, I’ll have an outline by this weekend.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Once you get an idea for a story, how do you manage the plotting through to the end? What do you do if you’re not quite sure how it will end? What are some strategies or exercises you employ to form a cohesive story?

Here are some fantastic resources on plotting I’ve found while trying to hammer out my plot:

* The Butterfly Story Plot Graphic is from Scholastic. It appears it’s no longer available for download from their sight. (Alas.) If anyone has the pdf, I’d love to have a copy!

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Writing Prompt: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Leavenworth Prison Photo by sofakingevil via flickrHave I told you I’m a genealogist? I am.

I absolutely love digging up dirt on all my relatives–the dead ones, anyway. (Who doesn’t love gossip, especially family gossip? Sadly, I think this tendency contributed to my wasted career in journalism…)

When I do my research, I want to know my ancestor’s stories more than I care about names and dates. Those things are important, of course, but I’d rather hear how someone did in school than know the dates they attended. It’s people’s actions and exploits which make them interesting.

My great-grandpa, for example, spent time in Leavenworth (a prison so infamous, I didn’t have to say “Leavenworth Penitentiary,” eh?).

He ran moonshine.

He was alerted when the revenuers were in the area and warned not to speak to them. But when the men in suits knocked on the front door, he offered to sell them some white lightning.

And then they took him away.

Here’s Your Prompt:   Create a character using tales from your family history. If nothing seems “big” enough (surely, there must be at least one interesting character in your family…?) then combine the exploits of two or more to make composite. If you don’t know any stories, dig through some family papers that might be stashed somewhere. Call up an older relative who might have something to share. Go to your local library (or use a service on line) to find some archives of newspapers from the area of where your family is from. Try Google.

If all else fails: borrow someone else’s family history. There’s plenty enough to share.

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Have You Seen This Nifty Idea Generator?

Brainstormer Idea GeneratorI love idea generators.

I get a kick out of seeing what other people make out of prompts as much as I enjoy trying them out myself. (That’s one reason I create a new writing prompt every Friday. Here’s the current list of them.)

Today I came across the Brainstormer. It’s been around for a while, but slid under my radar…probably because I tend to favor prompts with more meat.

The Brainstormer is definitely terse. And yet, I find it very appealing.

Andrew Bosley created the generator from lists he’d compiled while studying visual development and illustration. He’d choose random ideas from each list to prompt him to draw.

His original idea was to present these lists visually on his Web site and let folks cut and paste them together in a dial…but instead his friend John Michel programmed it in Flash.

(At first, I thought I would have loved to print it, cut it, paste it, etc. to have this nifty generator I could hold, but in hindsight I realize that for the cat waxing that it is…)

The flash is so much cooler. And faster.

My first spin of the wheel: Revenge Fairy Butcher

Sorry: You can’t have that idea. Get Your Own. I’m already brewing a story for that.

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Create Space to Stimulate Story Ideas

Cindy Lou WhoIt looks a little like Cindy Lou Who’s house around here tonight.


The Husband of Awesome™ and I gave up our couch and loveseat a few weeks ago and have been sitting on lawn furniture ever since. Not the most comfortable arrangement.

But it had to be done.

I knew that if we didn’t get rid of the couches, it would be months — perhaps a year or more — before we actually shopped for replacements. Furniture shopping: not one of my favorite things.

By getting rid of the couches, we forced our own hands, so to speak. We had to go shopping immediately, or be resigned to sittting on lawn furniture for eternity.

But before there was lawn furniture, there was emptiness, and that space allowed us to consider all kinds of possibilities to fill it.

Inevitably, this got me to thinking about writing. (What doesn’t get me to think about writing?)

Is your writing stalled? Is there something just not working in your story?

What if you examine your work in progress for scenes which aren’t doing the best job they could be doing? Are your scenes advancing the story? Are they growing the tension? Even if they’re adding to the tale, are they written in such a way that they’re not killing the pace?

What would happen if you excised that scene entirely?

What could you fill the space with? Consider your options. If you remove a scene — or even an entire plot line — what kind of possibilities does that open up?