Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Thinking in Spiders Not Lists

Generally speaking, I'd call myself a pantser.  I've tried a number of prescriptive outlining methods and for me, they don't work.  I don't enjoy them and they don't pull out the right bits.  I find them, inflexible, rigid and dull.

Sadly, the fact of the matter is, if I want to actually finish a novel or even just a story, I need some sort of outline.  If I don't, without fail I run out of steam one third of the way in.

So what do I do?

I scribble. 

There might be a more technical term. Brainstorming?  Freewriting?  I jot down my ideas like I'm having a conversation with my notebook.  Something like this...


Ball + 3 brothers. 
     x 2 war heroes?
    1 bastard.
Quite close.  Family bankrupted by boys' mother, one must marry well.  Oldest is steward for estate, loves it but has to toe line with evil stepmother to keep eye on boys.

And so it goes on in that vein.  Notes of ideas, crossed out and rewritten until I have an idea of who the main protagonists are. 

Then what?

Then this.  A diagram featuring my hero and heroine with random scribbles surrounding them. Back story, physical features, characteristics, all sorts.  Here's the one for my Red Riding Hood story - note some are crossed out.  I'm still thinking, still playing with ideas.

I've written notes for other characters, plot ideas, drivers. 

Then what?

A visual storyboard, that's what.  Here's my pinterest board for my Red Riding Hood story:

Red Riding Hood

I'm a strongly visual person, so having a visual storyboard really helps me to clarify my thinking.  Next up?

Character sheet.  But not the excel sheet type.  I've tried excel sheets but in my world, excel and writing are not a happy mix.  Not even when I make the cells pretty colours.  No.  It's back to the notebook again:

I have an image now of what Tabitha (my heroine) looks like.  I'm building  a character around that and I'm thinking about:
  • Her back story and drivers
  • Her physical characteristics
  • What she does when she's nervous or angry
  • Her fatal flaws
  • The things she cares about
Next I will do the same for Rafe, my hero.

Lastly, I will scrawl out the main plot points.  I know they will end up together - but in what circumstances?  What do they both need to be free of or to learn in order to be happy?  How will I force them to achieve that?

And then I write, though chances are by this point I will have written a page or even a chapter or two already. I'm impatient, what can I say?

What about you?  How do you plot? Outline?  Write?


Afsaneh said...

This'll sound horrible, I know, but it's a little comforting to know that I'm not the only one who pulls out their hair trying to plot their WIP. Good thing is though, that I have too much hair on my head so I suppose it's all good.
I do spider diagrams for each of my characters then try my best to link them up. Usually, it's harder than that and I scribble a lot out (so it looks a lot like a spider's web that I've destroyed).
And honestly, sometimes it just comes to me - I don't know how, but it does.
Although with my current WIP, my plan just fell apart because of so many mistakes in timing so I ended up making a time line for each character and connecting them somehow. In the meantime, while I was enduring the aforementioned punishment, I also worked on descriptions of them, nothing too seep because when the story hasn't started, well you don't really know the characters yet.
. . . I sound like a mess! Haha!

Meg McNulty said...

I know what you mean Afsaneh - my current WIP was way easier to write because both characters had been minor characters in my first novel - I knew them before I start. It was still damn hard though!

sirkeystone said...

Any way that you can find to make it work is how you should do it. For some reason I never approach a new storyline the same way. Neighbor's Basement was pantsed (It shows a little) then with the sucess I had with that I pantsed Stage (and it REALLY shows).

For Maraude's two books so far, I made outlines and character dossiers based on "25 Master Characters" (good book BTW). For Unshadow I did the mind map (Very similar to your spider method). For SunDay I have been using Ingermanson's Snowflake Method.

I can't seem to pick one thing and stick with it because for some reason they all tend to work in different ways for the story I'm working on. Maraude wouldn't work as a mind map/spider because I have the overall main story arc that spans (at least) the 35 books.

And that doesn't count all of the character explorational short stories I've been writing to nudge out the details of certain aspects of the main arc.

But thanks for this Meg, at least my scribbling in a note book isn't too "old fashioned" still!

Andrea said...

my God you are so organised.
I hardly have any plans written down any more. From being a really firm believer in plotting I am heading more and more towards the pantsing direction and other than a general idea of how the story needs to end, I'm only really thinking about one chapter ahead. I think it helps keep the story more believable as I'm not forcing the characters to go too much in a particular direction. Be interesting to see how the next story turns out though.

Meg McNulty said...

@sirkeystone I think if you're doing something as ambitious as your Maraude series you have to do some serious planning - I'd be totally lost otherwise. I'm trying to be a wee bit more organised, so I can deal with more overarching themes.

Interesting though - I approached the last book differently, so maybe you're right. I feel that this is an evolution of what I did, but maybe it's a departure.

@Andrea - you're in mid-WIP though. When I was in mid-WIP I had my general plot points I wanted to hit (and a pinterest board) but I was doing my thinking one chapter ahead really as to how I was going to get to those plot points. I think that's essential, to give the characters room to tell you what to do!

Stacy Bennett said...

I'm must be the worst of all. First, I screenplay every scene in my head, while driving, cleaning, before sleeping, walking the dog. I get the whole thing laid out in my head first. Before I even sit down to keyboard or pencil. Well, actually by this point, certain scenes will be begging to be written. So I do fun snippets, a love scene here, a battle there. Then i start writing the story, linking them all together. I run forwards and back as I find new links to enforce themes or subplots.

I know that if I want to get serious I'm going to need something more streamlined. That notebook/spider idea, looks like something I could handle. Thanks so much, Meg.

Great post.

Jessica Marcarelli said...

I love your way of plotting! I have found that unconventional methods suit me best, as well. Conventional means dries up my writing. Unconventional makes me have fun and you can almost hear that in the subsequent stories.

Who needs excel, anyway, beyond accountants? ;)

New follower! Pleased to meet you. :)

A to Z Blogger & SF/Fantasy Writer @ Visions of Other Worlds

Andrea said...

Good point. I think it's just that normally I have blow by blow written out for every chapter, so starting each chapter with a blank page used to be far too carefree for my liking.

I hardly ever seem to use a pen and paper any more as well, so that seems a bit alien. (Which is a terrible thing to admit!!!)

I did see an interesting rough planning graph which allows you to indicate pace/tension at
Might be helpful for your spider diagrams.

Meg McNulty said...

I love, love, love hearing how other people do this!

*waves at Jessica* nice to meet you!