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Thriller Thursday: The excitement of plotting

Yes, you read that right. First, instead of talking about true crime today, I’m going to talk about something that is thrilling to me. And today, that’s the power of plotting. Pansters, don’t leave! I promise there is something for you in this post.

When I started writing INTO THE DARK, I was a true pantster. I had no idea where the story was going, and it was only when I really started studying story structure that I started seeing the value of plotting. But I still clung to the belief that I couldn’t be inspired if I didn’t write by the seat of my (too big) pants.

And then TIN GOD came along, and I had 987 ideas and my critique partner Catie Rhodes introduced me to Scrivener. If you haven’t tried it, definitely check the program out. For the organizationally challenged like me, it is a Godsend.

TIN GOD is the first book I tried to plot. I really did have my own version of an outline…which changed about 10 times as I wrote. And that was all right. I was still learning structure and how to use my ideas efficiently. The second Delta Crossroads Book, SKELETON’S KEY, just got delivered to the developmental editor, and while I managed to mostly stick to the loose outline, it was also a story that sort of raged out of me in about three months total.

Which brings me to my current WIP. It’s going to be different than anything I’ve attempted. It’s a thriller and a time slip novel, meaning there will be scenes set in the past, and the subject matter(s) are delicate. The plot is the most intricate I’ve ever attempted.

I had to plan this book out, because by now, my control freak tendencies have crept into my writing and will not be ignored. I’ve read a lot of plotting books, including Scene and Structure, but I still struggled with how to full visualize my story before I started writing. Again, at the prodding (almost always gentle) of my critique partner Catie Rhodes, I studied Patti Larsen’s method. If you don’t know Patti, she is a prolific writer (30 books in something like two years, and they are good!) and great teacher. Her method is easy to understand and was a huge lightbulb moment for me.

But I also had to make it my own. I started out with my notebook and wrote down idea after idea, slowly fleshing out each character. Then came the plot ideas. What if this, and what if that? A lot of them were chucked out. A few were kept. Over and over, narrowing it down. I started this journey at the end of April and today, I have a 43 scene detailed synopsis. When I say detailed synopsis, I mean I know what the arc is of each individual scene, what the high points are, which ones have the key symbolism that plays into the plot, etc. Catie’s read the synopsis, we made some changes, and now I am fine tuning.

The benefit of having this synopsis is that we can see plot issues before we even start writing! Now, that doesn’t mean that more won’t pop up–that’s inevitable. But hopefully, we can catch the worst offenders now.

A year ago, I would have said this would never work for me, that the scenes would be flat and uninspired with so much early planning. Maybe that was true then, but it isn’t now. I’ve also been doing a lot of craft studying, and if you haven’t read Donald’s Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction, do it now. There is much to be learned from that book, for writers of any stage. As I’ve developed as a writer, my process has changed, and it changes for each book. I can’t tell you exactly how I got to this point for the WIP, and I probably won’t be able to replicate it for the third Delta Crossroads book. And that’s okay, because writing is ever evolving. Point is, we as authors need to be willing to learn and change. Just like a child, every book we write has different needs.

The point of this post? To tell you that I am SO FREAKING EXCITED to have this synopsis. Going this route has been perfect for me, and it will enable me to write slower, focus more on the nuances and micro-tension of each scene. I’ve gone from feeling as though I were flailing around like a decapitated chicken to being just a bit cocky about my plans for this book.

So there’s my thrilling story. Thrilling to me, anyway. I feel as though I’ve turned a corner with my writing, and I’m excited to see what’s down the road. And if you’re a panster, I’m not saying give that up and start plotting ahead. Just be flexible. Let the book tell you how it needs to be written.

8 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: The excitement of plotting”

  1. I love that – “let the book tell you how it needs to be written.” I think I’m still trying to find the best way of outlining/plotting for me. I have my process, but there always seems to be holes in it still. And sometimes I still need to learn to be flexible.

    • Thank you. I’ve taken a long time to learn how to do this. And I don’t think the holes in our process disappear until we have a lot of experience. Good luck!

  2. I am so glad you posted this. It’s informative and encouraging. (Even to me, your critique partner.) I am glad my advice has been a great help to you. I’ve learned a lot from you too–from perseverance to writing better characters. πŸ™‚

  3. I am a TOTAL pantser. This is why. When I sit down to write out an outline for a story, my mind goes completely blank. I can’t think of a THING to write. But when I sit down and start writing a story, the ideas start flowing out of me. I’ve even tried to plot the rest of a book after starting it. Again, my mind freezes up. I don’t know why this happens. The book I’m writing now has a more complicated plot than the other books I’ve written, so I feel a need to plot some things out and at least get a rough outline. So what have I been doing? NO writing. Since plotting has worked for you, I’m hoping it will for me at some point.

    • And that is what works for you, which is a great. I actually used to be that way, but the more I wrote, the more i needed a plan ahead of time. I would say just keep doing what feels right. Keep a notebook of ideas, index cards of possible scenes, but don’t feel married to them. Good luck!

  4. Wow Stacy, you sound so content with yourself and your progress. Good on you girl! And it seems that we evolve as authors. There’s a learning curve for each one of us. I like to know where I’m heading, so I do plot. But that’s subject to change as ideas germinate. I love that process. Although I do get overwhelmed learning so much at one time. I’m in the baby steps program. lol. I’ll eventually get there. So happy for you! πŸ™‚

    • THank you. I am more content now than I have been for a while. Prioritizing has been a big help, especially with this blog. Just keep an open mind and you will do great.

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