Sunday, January 27, 2013

Coincidences & Plotting

I'm experiencing (again) one of the big down sides of being a pantster. Coincidences.

When I start drafting I tend to know a few things:
  • my 2 main characters - their names, jobs, main personality traits, flaws
  • the 1st scene (or at least what starts it)
  • the final outcome or the climax scene (at least a snippet of it)
That's pretty much it and none of it's usually written down. I used Scivener for my latest project and I did know a bit more than usual for this story. This time I had a solid picture of the town in my head and I knew more of the people than I usually do. I even had about 5 bullets for plot points. Yup - for me that's a lot!

But it wasn't enough. I still messed up. I've got a major problem because of some unrealistic coincidence type things that seemed perfectly appropriate during the draft. *sigh*

Now I'm facing a big choice. Tweak the ms in a major edit (which should take roughly forever :)) - or keep the story issues in my head and rewrite it from scratch (possibly facing the same issues next time).

*bigger sigh*

I've learned a lot over the past 3 or 4 years that I've been writing, but I still haven't learned to plot in advance and not kill the joy of writing the story. So I'm looking for a little help. I THINK I'd like to create an outline for the same story and then rewrite it. Because I'm removing some MAJOR events and plot points, it's going to be a pretty different story - and I'm more than a little nervous about even trying an outline.

So, let me in on what works for you. 3 act structure? Chapter by chapter outline? Major twists first - fill in from there? A long list of bullet points?

Help! How do you outline? And, how do you outline and still have fun?

47 comments:

  1. I'd think new outline and rewrite would be best. (I had to do that with my first book.)
    I write down the major scenes, some in more detail than others. Then I re-read my outline dozens of times, changing and adding. It's usually several pages long and looks like Cliff Notes when I finish. Can't think in terms of chapters though. That is the very last thing I do to a story - divide it into chapters.
    You can do it, Jemi!

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  2. Alex - I think I can do major scenes - although thinking of them in advance before I'm into the 'new' story is tough. But I like that approach. Hm...

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  3. Hi Jemi-
    Since Jess and I work together we need to have a common idea of where our story is going. We usually write down our main characters and their characteristics (much of this never even comes up- but we know our characters well). Then we write a general outline of the events for the first 10 chapters or so and then a rough ending. We don't map out the middle until we are done with the beginning, since things change and we want the writing to be fun and go where it needs to go. Having more of an outline for the start of the book keeps us on track.

    Wishing you lots of luck. Maybe outlining and then rewriting will go a little faster, since you now have a better idea of the characters and where everything needs to go. Sometimes just trying to edit takes even longer.
    ~Stephanie

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  4. I like Alex's idea. Perhaps know the major plot points, ie, inciting incident, first act end-door where main character must face the challenge, midpoint crisis, and climax. I like to know at least this when I start a story. Good luck Jemi.

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  5. All the best Jemi!

    All good advice here in comments.

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  6. Stephanie - thank you! I'm thinking the edits in this case would take longer than a rewrite, which is why I'm leaning that way. Mapping out the beginning first makes a lot of sense to me - thanks!!

    Natalie - I like the flow of what you said - I think it just happens more or less naturally when I write, but I need to eliminate these coincidences!

    Nas - thank you! Aren't my blog buddies great? :)

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  7. I write my first draft the same way you write. Then I read it, make pages of notes and treat that first draft as my outline. Then I totally retype it, fixing the plot points.

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  8. Susan - oh! I never thought of doing it that way - and it makes total sense to me. I just made an outline of what I have and if I make changes to that... maybe! Thanks!

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  9. I never plot in advance so I might not be any help. My first draft, like Susan says, could be considered my outline because then I print it out and pencil it up, fixing things and rewriting and reprinting, as many times as it takes. Yeah, I go through a lot of paper but that's what works for me. Good luck!!

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  10. My only advice to you Jemi, would be to do what your gut tells you. It's normally right.

    I've been 'there' many times myself. You'll figure it out :) Good luck!

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  11. Jemi, I have never been able to successfully outline a first draft. If I try, it comes out lifeless and boring.

    However, I do outline my second drafts, and that sounds like what you need to do. Between the first and second drafts, I create a side-by-side outline.

    First, I set up a page with two columns. In the left hand column, I outline the completed first draft, chapter by chapter. Then, in the right hand column I outline the changes that need to be made. I cut and paste things from the first draft column to the second draft column, rearrange, put new material in red font, etc.

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  12. Yvonne - I don't print out normally - but I can see how that would work. Might have to try that! Thanks :)

    Wendy - thanks - I sure hope so! Sometimes it feels like the end is very, very far away!

    Dianne - you're my hero! That sounds like a very doable plan to me!! Off to make some columns... :)

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  13. I find that it's usually best to have a rough outline in mind; know what you want the plot to accomplish in a broad sense, but you can feel free to be experiment (wildly) within that framework.

    And, of course, the framework can always be changed!

    If you're looking for an editor you're drop by my blog. I write about being a literary agent, crafting fiction, and books in general.

    Of late I've been considering offering editing services again and this post reminded me exactly why. Two heads can often help creativity along!

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  14. Searching - thanks! I've always loved the freedom and joy of being a pantster. There's nothing quite like knowing where you're going, but not knowing how you're going to get there. This whole framework thing is tough!! :)

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  15. I'm a wingman, so not quite the right source for an answer, but what I've done on my current work is think ahead (without outlining it) and ask questions of myself: what are the logical conclusions to this action? What is my character likely to do? And, since I had a better sense of what I wanted the outcome of the story to be, I'd ask myself things like, what events would cause this response? What has to happen to get these people to this point?

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  16. Jeff - those are all good questions - I'm going to make a list of them to wake up my brain when I'm writing. I write romance, so one of the end results is obvious and becasue of that I love winging it and seeing how the rest plays out! This plotting is tough!

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  17. Are you *sure* you have to rewrite? Can you either refer to the coincidences as remarkable or else brainstorm ways that these two things came to be? See how many ways (from the completely unbelievable to the remotely possible) you can come up with to fix the problem? Worth a try before the rewrite.

    Signed,

    Fellow Pantster :)

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  18. Elizabeth - you know, I haven't done that yet! Definitely worth a try before I get going too far. I'm finding this plotting more than a bit of a nightmare - thanks!

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  19. Yes, brainstorm some ideas first.

    And I'm sorry, no way I could write without a planned outline and character sheets.

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  20. I write short stories all the time, but feel intimidated by novel length. So, I think of each scene as a short story. That helps me. In the beginning, I write down all my scene ideas. Write them. Then put them in order.

    If it were me, I'd jot down all your scenes and see where you are. Then under each scene write a sentence or two -- maybe plot points. You might see overlaps then or things missing in your scenes.

    I wouldn't start over.

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  21. Hi Jemi, I'm so,sorry to hear you're facing such a though choice! I highly recommend going through and doing a book map before you choose. Focusing on what each scene really accomplished, the emotional value of each scene, and most importantly, the goals of each character in the scene really helped me figure out where I was going wrong while maintaining/connecting to the core of the emotional story. Tracking change and outcome was also huge for me. The process was more painful than drilling teeth, but so helpful! Holler if there's anything I can do to help! I love brainstorming, too!

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  22. I wish I had a system to share, but I never do it the same way twice. My most frequent technique--using that term VERY loosely--is to write a sentence or two that summarizes the book and start from there.

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  23. Okay, Jemi, here's what I do now, keeping in mind I'm a real pantser. I use the BEAT SHEET from SAVE THE CAT as an outline. It's easy and not at all intimidating because it's only one page. I use that to keep the story structure in my head, but at the same time end up writing whatever comes out. But if I feel like I'm getting lost at any point, I go back to it to pull me on track. Try doing that with the story you have and see where you went awry.

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  24. Diane - I wish I could - they're driving me around the bend right now!!!

    Teresa - I'm waffling right now! Starting over seems easier than fixing - but some of the scenes would probably work from the original too.

    Martina - those are excellent items to add to my spreadsheet. I'm thinking that might help me see it more clearly and hopefully not have to dive in from the beginning!

    Lee - I kind of do that too - have a basic idea of what the core of the story is all about. Hoping something here works!

    Lisa - good idea! I haven't read that one ... have it here somewhere though... I'll dig it out and give that a try!! Thanks :)

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  25. I discovered a serious logic (plot) flaw in the middle of a first draft and tried forcing a correction. Every change I made created another problem. By the time I was done chasing down all the logic issues I realized it would have been easier to have just done a re-write.

    I usually do a rough timeline before I start with the major events and fill in from there.

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  26. Linda - and that's exactly what I'm worried about with the edit option! Adding to a timeline is a great idea - I'm always messing that up :)

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  27. I utilize a chapter by chapter outline that details major plot points that come out in the chapter. I find it still allows me to remain creative and I never feel like I can't change things up and rework the outline if I need to. :)

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  28. DL - thanks! I've now done that kind of thing with my original story - I'm going to try tweaking it and see what I can do with it! At least that's the current plan :)

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  29. I write a chapter by chapter outline before I start writing since I'm a plotter.

    In this situation I would outline and rewrite.

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  30. Medeia - that's what I'm trying - but I'm finding it much more difficult than I expected!!

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  31. Don't fret Jemi. Look at all the coincidences in the novels of Dickens? They always seemed miraculous, not unrealistic!

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  32. I've done both, although the more I write, the more I try to outline. It isn't necessarily more fun - but it helps me get the job done.

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  33. It is fun to right without planning but to produce a real page turner you have to stop and do the boring bits. Well that's my take on it anyway. Good luck with your rewrite.

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  34. I always outline the story before I start writing it. But I also leave room for variation while I"m writing. 3 act structure works well, or you can do a scene by scene outline, too. Good luck!

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  35. Maria - that's true! I can live with the coincidences leading into trouble, just not the ones getting them out of trouble! :)

    Beth - it seems to have caused me to come to a complete and total standstill which is NOT what I want at this point. Gotta figure something out :)

    Rosalind - thanks. I don't mind plowing through boring - but I'm just not able to plow at all right now. More than a bit frustrated :)

    Nutschell - thanks! I'm trying the scene by scene - but it's so slow it's almost invisible. Maybe I'll switch gears to the 3 act...

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  36. Hi, Dear! This http://writeoncon.com/2012/08/the-revision-checklist-by-author-talia-vance/
    really helps me in the stage you are in with the ms.

    Hope it helps you! Hugs!

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  37. Jackee - you're an angel! Thanks so much - off to check it out!! :)

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  38. Oh that is SUCH a pain, Jemi. I feel for you.

    For my last couple rounds of ongoing rewrites I attacked the ms knowing a couple of things I needed to have in there and went at it. I'm still figuring out the best way to rewrite. It takes me so much time! (Yeah, "approximately forever" is a good way of putting it.)

    I think I would go in knowing which major plot points I wanted to add or change and make sure I had every scene as their own text thingy in Scrivener. I'd put those in and take it from there. Big stuff first. See if it works, then work on the rest to make it fit. What I love about Scrivener is the ability to swap things around and see a bird's eye view of all the scenes with ease.

    Good luck, Jemi! And if you need anything, let me know.

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  39. oooh! Tough spot to be in, I know. I've been there. I'm also a panster. What I've done over the years is look at my first drafts as just a map. I don't really know what's going to happen until I write it, and then once I get to the end, I can take a look at the story and themes that are in there. If you look at it that way - a full rewrite doesn't sound so bad because your first draft is just practice to see what you're writing about. Good luck!

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  40. Terry - that's actually a perfect way to look at it! Hm... that helps a lot. I like it!

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  41. Jean - great points! I've started a new Scrivener doc, but hadn't really thought of adding in the whole major scenes and working around them. Hm. That's a very good plan!! Thanks :)

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  42. I write the chapters first. I have the whole idea from the start. So I write the chapters, then bullet point the major points, then I fill out the story.

    I then fill out the story by writing what makes sense at the time. I may jump around a bit but overall this is what makes sense to me.

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  43. This is why I submit my draft to my editor who gives me feedback on anything major that needs to be addressed. It may cost a few extra $$$, but this initial read through is well worth it.

    I would say yes to the new rewrite and outline. It won;t take as long as you thing. Just rock and roll on it and I bet you can do this in two weeks, then move forward at that point.

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  44. I'm afraid I'm a pantser, too, but if faced with the same thing, I might do a chapter by chapter outline, using the first draft as my guide. Either way, good luck to you!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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  45. Stephen - that's a good method. I generally don't know what's going to happen in between - and I like discovering it as I write. So far, I'm only on chapter 2 of my rewrite - but I think it's going well. We'll see!

    Shannon - that's what I'm working at right now! It's kind of slow (okay really slow), but I think it might work! :)

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  46. For me, it isn't coincidences, but "echoes". I will have one character facing some sort of trial or inner conflict, and then later, have another character facing something that is the same sort of theme. Ugh, this is definitely a struggle when you pants it.

    Angela

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  47. Angela - yup - I love the freedom and joy of pantsting, but there is a price to pay!! :)

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