Sunday, January 4, 2015

Plotting for a New Year

     Happy New Year, readers. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season that included reading some of our favorite books from December.  (Too much to hope that much writing went on. At least not at my house.)

     So we are starting off 2015 with a discussion of plotting a story.

     Uh-oh.  Houston, we have a problem.

     I don't plot my stories. Ever,  So if you are hoping to learn how to plot in this post, you can stop reading now.  One of the other TA's will tell you everything you need to know in the following weeks.

     I'm here to tell the rest of you still reading, it's OK to not plot.

     I have visceral reaction to anything requires plotting. Anything that has to be done in specific sequential steps, sends me over the edge.  Cooking, math, putting anything together with instructions. I'm awful at all of those things. A couple of years ago, when educational testing discovered that my daughter has the same difficulty I learned this had a name...something like "difficulty with executive reasoning." (Which I suppose means I'll never be President...but I digress.) Sometimes dessert should come first.  I almost always read the end of a book first.  Working from step A to step B to step C just doesn't work for me.  Never has.

     I was the student who wrote the term paper first, then the outline.  When I was first trying to be a real writer (as opposed to that seat-of-my-pants writer I had been as a teen and young adult) I discovered that some real writers outlined everything they wrote as a first step.  This news was so discouraging I stopped writing for several years, because obviously, I had been doing it wrong.

    Of course, that didn't last forever. I went back to writing in the same old any-which-way-I can (including out of sequence) method.  I did learn a few things. I learned to plan before I wrote.

    Planning and plotting are not the same thing.  Plotting is knowing what happens first, then next, then next and at the end. I never know more than one of those things before I start writing.  I've stopped worrying about it.  Planning is knowing what you need to know before you type that first word.

   I've mentioned before that writing the minute you get a good idea is not usually the best thing to do.  You need to know your characters before you write about them.  Who can you write about more successfully?  Your best friend or someone you talked to for five minutes at a party? You should know your characters as well as you do your friends before you write about them. That's the first step in my Plan.

    Because once a librarian, always a librarian at heart, I think about what I don't know but should for my story. Do I need to research a geographic area?  A time period? Speech patterns and slang for a particular area?  A disease?  A career that I know nothing about?  Now is the time to get as many of those answers as you can, before you start writing. What is more frustrating than reaching page 100 and discovering you are missing a chunk of important information. (This will happen anyway, but not as much if you do it upfront.)

    This is also the time I pick my Imaginary Reader. Imaginary Reader is the kid I envision reading my book.  Imaginary Reader sits next to me while I write. Is IR a girl or a boy, or both?  How old? Do they like to read or not?  What about my story would interest them?  (Actually, I should probably come with my IR first. See?  That old executive reasoning problem.)

    So if you are not a Plotter, fear not.  You can be a Planner.  It's worked for me so far.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


JoAnn Early Macken said...

I'm with you, MA! Plotting usually eludes me, but planning I can do. Thanks for making the distinction!

Carmela Martino said...

>>This is also the time I pick my Imaginary Reader. Imaginary Reader is the kid I envision reading my book. Imaginary Reader sits next to me while I write.<<
Love this image, MA. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Bobbi Miller said...

This is a very good discussion on plotting vs. planning! Thank you!!

jan godown annino said...

I plan to think about this as I plot my week.
Appreciating the panster vs. potter talk.
Happy Writing/Reading/Editing/Teacher Year to
the Teaching Autors!

jan godown annino said...

Appreciating the panster vs. plotter talk, too!

Sandra Stiles said...

So glad to learn there are others out there like me. I've always been a pantser. I too wrote the research paper then the outline. I plan but don't plot. The one course I took that had me plotting it out didn't work out. It is still an unfinished book. I have to go back and look at my plans, get rid of the plot outline and write it because I know it is a great story.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Mary Ann, for sharing your singular take on plotting!
I love how you give time to identifying your Imaginary Reader.

April Halprin Wayland said...

This is fabulous, Mary Ann.

I would probably stop taking anxiety meds now...if I took them.

mary ann rodman said...

Thank you all for reassuring me that I am not the only non-plotter out there. Sorry to be so late in responding to your comments. The reason I posted late Sunday night was that I knew I would be spending the majority of this week moving my daughter to her first apartment. Hopefully next week, I'll be back "panting" away...