//my “plotting process”

A few weeks ago, my friend Eli asked what my writing process was like. I laughed, and then realized he was serious and agreed I would. Then I told my friend Arielle, and it was her turn to laugh. It’s a well-known fact that claiming a ‘process’ is probably aggrandizing when it comes to how I write. It’s like comparing a well-built wall to a rockslide. But I promised, and even though the promise is late in being fulfilled, fulfill it I shall. Onward.

plotting

STEP ONE: CHARACTERS

Rarely do my novels actually start with a story idea. They start with a character, and I build a story around them. I find characters more interesting than plots, for the most part, so it’s always a challenge to build a plot I find equal to my love for said character.

STEP TWO: CREATE A VAGUE OUTLINE OUT OF THIN AIR

This is easier said than done. Usually it’s something completely vague and generic. ‘Evil so-and-so must be taken down by heroes,’ or ‘two broken people mend each other.’ The usual schtick. It morphs greatly over time, but a vague idea of a general plot is a good way to start.

STEP THREE: FIGURE OUT THE ENDING

This is very important to me. Even if the ending changes completely by the time the novel is over, you need to have one set so you know where to go and what to aim towards. Otherwise you’ll wander aimlessly and get lost following any plot bunny rabbit-hole that comes across your path. (Believe me. I’ve been there and I’ve done that more times than I care to count.)

THERE ARE NO MORE STEPS THESE ARE JUST RANDOM THINGS I DO

• Plot four chapters ahead. I generally have an idea of what’s going to happen four chapters ahead of wherever I am. It’s a solid distance that keeps me moving forward.

• Pinterest. Sure, it’s easy to get lost wandering through the mystical PICTURES of THINGS but I refer constantly to my pinboards. It’s a great way to keep all your inspiration and help in one place.

• Keep a specific notebook and/or document for all the miscellaneous stuff pertaining to your project – I write down spur-of-the-moment ideas in notebooks, and transfer the keepers to a document for quick, easy reference.

• Listen to songs, watch movies/dramas, and read books in the same vein as whatever you’re writing for extra inspiration. (Remember that inspiration does not = plagiarism, however.)

You may have noticed that I did not go very in-depth where characters are concerned, but characterization is another process entirely and one I plan on tackling very soon. In the meantime, I hope this at least satisfied some curiosity somewhere.

Do you have a process (or at least an excuse for one)? I’d love to hear about it! Maybe I’ll steal some tricks.

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11 thoughts on “//my “plotting process”

  1. I think I could define my plotting process about as well as you do… ;) Although I will say that at least right before I start, I write down a fairly specific-yet-somehow-still-vague outline so that I know where I’m going, but there’s enough leeway to let my characters run away with the plot…
    Which of course never happens because my characters are the most well behaved ever. *ahem* *coughcough* :P

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  2. I am a huge panster whose realizing I need to plot more. But plotting doesn’t always work for me because I get bored if I plot everything out. However plotting four chapters ahead sounds like a BRILLIANT idea.

    You may have just saved my life. ;) :D

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  3. Pinterest is a huge (H U G E) help! I’m glad you mentioned it. But it is super easy to get lost.

    You forgot to mention getting in the Zone. In which you lip sink to a hair brush in front of your mirror for a good fifteen minutes. :P

    I think another help is identifying the theme, which you did kind of touch on. And then ask what the best way to let that theme shine is. Which is another thing. Questions. I like to question why X does this and what the outcome would be. They say that character decisions spur the plot on and it’s true. So for this to happen, what needs to come before then?

    But the planning 4 chapters ahead thing is something I still need to try. It sounds super helpful!

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  4. I feel like my plotting process morphs a little to fit whatever project I’m working on. For my big fantasy WIP (a 4-book series), I outline and make lots of notes. For my Rooglewood contest entries, the planning occurs mostly in my head, I make a few notes, and then run with it. And aside from some short stories, I haven’t really had a chance to see how I approach something completely different…like a standalone novel or a brand new series. I guess we’ll see.

    I love how character-driven your process–and your books–turn out to be. ^_^ And even if plots are harder for you, what eventually shows up on the page is pretty stellar, I must say.

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  5. My process is usually the oposite: i start out with a concept or a vague idea of the plot, and then figure out the characters. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out my character’s name, appearance and personality. I let my ideas simmer for a day or two, and if I’m still liking it, i develop it more.
    Oooh I’d love to hear about how you do characterization! :D

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  6. This was pretty awesome to read. And it’s funny, I’ve never actually “asked” you what your process was, and yet– I knew it already! <3 I kept nodding my head: "yes, this is my bb girl! Yes."

    My process… *laughs* I don't know if I can even "claim" to have a process since I only write one story and never plan on leaving this story, but always develop the finer details and histories until I die. I almost /can't/ leave my world because I am so attached to my characters and the stories I created.

    I guess my process is this:

    1. Zooéy began as a spark in my mind: a 'what if?' idea of 'what would this character do if involved in the War of the Ring?' back in late 2003. Phelenør then (eventually Estelleth) and the foster child of Gandalf…

    …and I took that character (black hair and dark blue eyes and all) and put her in my own seedling world (then Talathain).

    And basically now she's Zooéy Jean Darcy, the foster child of Muggles Wardelworth (ironically, my 'Gandalf' figure).

    So it began with Zooéy.

    2. I wanted a plot, thematic, character arc that was tied together and multi-faceted with multiple supporting/main characters and secondary characters. So I figured on the "end game" and what I wanted my book to say to the world.

    a. I realised I needed to write about things closest to me or my story wouldn't matter. What did I care about? What was I afraid of? What did I hope for? What gave me nightmares? What hurt the most?

    b. I chose a plot that would support this and be the "running thread" through my entire story. They would be tied together: it would strengthen

    1. Zooéy
    2. my plot and
    3. my theme(s)

    c. I chose a finalised "end game" for my last book that everything… /everything/ in my book would point/lead to. Even insignificant "details" in the beginning of my first book "Fairytale" is important to the plot that builds to my ultimate climax in my last book "Legend".

    3. In the middle of my (ever evolving) plotting, writing, developing, and growing as an author (and mamma to my bbs), disaster fell and friends deserted me. And for so long "all" I had was Zooéy, Adam, Chase, and Archie to "talk" to. I sort of ran away to my story(ies) every night and I dumped my confusion on them: "why?" And my pain became their pain, and these questions all ran and entwined themselves into my already existing plot. Somehow it added to what was already there and gave it more depth. It fixed up loose ends, gave me plot twists, deepened "surprise" plots and betrayals I was planning. Ironically, things I faced in life helped my story.

    So, I really consider my life to be an important part of my writing process.

    Even now, when I'm loneliest or my most confused or saddest I go to my story (because I finally got to the point where it's just hard to trust people anymore and I gave up trying to find someone to "listen" to me. I listen to people, but the same people who want me to listen never want to listen to me. I just point blank gave up and don't even plan or hope to invest hope like that again because I've been burned so much and so often and so frequently it drives me crazy when it happens (again) so I just pull away and become more private than before; so I talk to my characters, and they care.

    Weirdly enough, this is such an advantage. I do my best writing when I am at my lowest, loneliest, saddest. I'm always going to feel absolutely lost here in this life; but the silver lining is that it makes my writing worth it: and I feel as if it's a way to touch other people's lives. And that sounds sad, but I actually really think it helps my writing a lot…! Being on the outside looking in and being the one who is always left out has it's perks because I get to see the entire scope of the world as an outsider who doesn't exactly belong but who really cares about everyone who hurts… and I have insight from all of this and use it for my writing <3

    (I guess my writing process is a lot of "thought" process to get to what I need/what happens)

    4. I write. Most of the time I write where I left off; but if I come up with an important scene, I go to that scene (no matter where it is in the course of my books' timeline and write it so I never forget it).

    As a result, I have a document for all eight books; and all eight books have at least 7-20 pages (and the first book as 286 and is only three-fourths of the way done ;))

    I then go back and "fill in the gaps" that are left with smaller details and threads and themes that tie into the main thread of my plot.

    5. I develop my histories and the characters at an insane level. EVERYTHING my characters do is for a reason. Zooéy's hair style, the two bracelets she always wears on ONLY her left wrist, the way she holds herself, the way she just "shuts up" most of the time when runs over, or becomes so exhausted with being overwhelmed by it all that she "blows her top" or gets "sarcastic" ;) And this includes all… ALL of my characters. I do this for all of them <3 And even if it never "makes it into the story" (although 99% of it /does/ end up in my story), it's important because it helps me understand "how they work" and how they are "most likely to react" in any given situation.

    The way Adam and Zooey meet and begin their friendship is important to the after-effects of my last book's climax. Zooey's insane, weird INFJ-creative streak is important to how Adam and Zooey someday fall in love. Things I establish in my mind and on paper help me realise "probable cause".

    Choices that Muggles made long before the book "begins" is important to the catalyst of book one; and those same choices are plot supports in book two and drive people towards disaster in book three (ultimately driving everything towards the book three climax); and yet those same "events" that don't happen in my book, but actually make up the paper-and-page DNA of Muggles Wardelworth's background comes to a closure in book five.

    (And as an artist, this also helps me decide how to "design them" :))

    6. I also use the "review" sticky note option in Word to "write notes" down in my documents for "later on". When I'm writing in book one and I want this "thing" to be important to something in book seven, I create a sticky-note and jot down the notes right there in the draft. It's awesome because I don't have it on paper where I'll "lose" it or have to "search" for what part of my first book it goes to. When I re-read/edit book one, it's /right there/ on the exact sentences I'm referring too. They can't be lost. It keeps it so fresh in my mind and it's better than an "outline" for me! Somehow my mind doesn't work with outlines, it restricts it and hinders my creative process.

    The only sort of outline I ever have is a mental one for each story consisting of three points:

    1. what is my beginning (and how does it usher in the soon to be climax)?

    2. what is the act two catalyst that drives the characters to the climax (this is my "mini climax"?

    3. what is my climax?

    And I have that "three act" rule for each of my books and then a "three act" rule for the entire series. Book 1 is my "beginning"; book 4, 5, or 6 is my "catalyst" for book 8; and book 8 is my climax.

    And, that's the way my writing process goes! I know practically everything to happen (with a few "vague notions" left up for grabs, and all that I'm doing now is finding time to "write it"…. since it is all pegged…) But that's how I write and somehow it works so well for me! :) It's probably chaotic and insane and mental to everyone else; but for whatever reason… this REALLY works for me!

    P.S. It's also interesting to note, I had my end long before I had my beginning. I only "found' my beginning two weeks ago; I've had my end for absolute years (I mean, give or take the "details" but the mental aesthetic for how it should end was there; but I had no idea of how it should begin… but I found that.)

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  7. Dang. What a rambler. I just wrote a 3-4 page answer XD Sorry. I’m SO sorry!

    I should note, I don’t bother about “length”. I like long stories, so I decided to add as much “needless” detail as I want because I LOVE it in a book. I’m stubborn that way, but I let my story be as long as it wants to be… but never forced, only as I see it and as the story tells itself to me.

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  8. <3 the advice, the tips, your process. And, basically, I do things similarly. Honestly, The last Nano was begun BECAUSE of the characters, I Had NO idea about the ending, but it shocked me into tears of gladness and joy by how ideal it was to the story. I am a bit more at a loss for this Nano, but AM going to do it. Have a character that is itching to tell her story, and that of her family. So… we will see!! Such fun! And, yes, PINTEREST is so great! I think so anyway. and, music, and movies, and- happy sigh- yeah.

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  9. Huh, this is very interesting! I like it because it is way more organized than mine. Usually I start out with characters, too, and then my entire plotting process is basically writing out the sparsest draft anybody ever did see with the most sparse of plotting as well. It’s a tricky process, and it takes forever, but it’s all I’ve managed to do so far. :P

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