Write on, Wednesday! To Plot, or Not to Plot…that is the Question

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

As most of you know, I am feverishly working on a novel.  Second draft revisions…rewrites, or whatever you want to call ’em are tough.  The first draft was all composed on the fly.  That is, I am a pantser (as in seat-of-my-pants).  I first heard that term when I attended the Write-by-the-Lake retreat this past June.  I heard it again when I was reading the latest issue of Writer’s Digest (March/April 2013).

So, let’s back up to that statement at the top:  Second-draft revisions are tough.  As I’ve been working through this draft with my wonderful writing partner (who reads, critiques, gives, suggestions, and kicks my butt), I’ve been seriously considering starting the next book with a good old-fashioned outline, thinking it would make those 2nd draft revisions much easier. 

After reading this article in WD, I am wrong, wrong, wrong! 

Take what you want–work how you want–but for me, the outline may not be my bestfriend.  It’s too limiting.  It’s too old-school, it’s too predictable…and it sort of takes the fun out of writing.  Here’s why:

  • Starting with an idea, a problem, or paradox seems to lead most naturally to storytelling
  • Storytelling, by definition is a rambling artistic form.  Okay, try to forget that I said, “rambling.”  Your book should NOT ramble.  Your thought-processes should.  Explore them.  When you have a cool idea, go deeper.  Eliminate the other not-so-good rambles.
  • That said, follow your rabbit holes.  You never know what your inner muse may contribute.  If it sucks later, cut it.
  • Themes and subtext start to emerge from plot-free writing.  I had no idea a theme in my book was “cleanliness, tidyness” till someone in my critique group commented on it.  I learned something about my inner psyhe and my characters. 
  • Each scene–and character for that matter–should behave predictably, but still have a surprise ending.  You can’t always work that out with a plot.  Sometimes those ‘surprises’ startle you, the writer, too.
  • Be able to straddle a couple of genres.  I know, I know…you have heard contraindications for that.  Well, I think a ‘good book’ touches on several genres.  For example, I am currently reading a Laura Lippman novel.  She’s a thriller writer.  Is is all gloom and doom?  Action?  No.  But it does cross into women’s fiction, psychological thriller, whodunit, and more…when you start with a plot or outline, you often do so with the idea (read: rule) that you are writing a romance or Christian fiction, or whatever, so those other genre elements get poo-pooed. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Do your own thing.  But remember, writing is hard work.  It sounds easy, but in the words of Nathanial Hawthorne, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” 

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