Determining Plot: Time For a Coin Toss?September 12, 2010
I’m going to admit right now to a certain jealously towards writers who outline their novels. You just seem so organized and in control. Whenever I come across the seemingly sane advice to outline my plot, I think: what a great idea! That will solve my problems for sure!
Since I was stuck recently, scratching my head wondering ‘what comes next?’ I tried, once again, to outline my plot. And once again, I failed miserably. Honestly, I should just shove my head in a bucket and start hitting it with a hammer–the effect on my mind is similar…
Trouble is, I can’t seem to come up with enough detail to make the outline worthwhile! Points A and Z are well defined, but all points in between are a fog, a swath of nothingness, that mocking blankness on the page, empty, empty, empty. The map for my novel has a big, blank spot in the middle, so I just dunno what’s going to show up. Will I be trekking through mountains, swamps or desert? I dunno. Is the path straightforward or meandering? I dunno. Is there warning signs on the map: beware ye who enter here, a skull and crossbones? I dunno. I dunno. I have no idea.
While I do know where I’m hoping to go, the route I’m taking to get there is a mystery. I’m feeling my way through the dark with a lighted match–and that’s it.
So I’ve decided: its official. I am not an outliner. I’m not even a connect-the-dot-er. I like to nail down my details organically, one scene arising from the other, within a very loose and general framework. Let’s call it the ‘fingers crossed hope to hell this works out’ school of plot development. I’ve also heard it referred to as ‘pant-est’ (meaning ‘Whee! Look at me! I’m flying by the seat of my pants, baby!’)
It’s not an approach conductive to too much rational thought. It’s intuitive–and, as such, tossing a coin or consulting the Tarot to figure out a plot problem doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. I suppose it can be considered fun and exciting, with it’s perpetual sense of discovery and surprise (oh look! My character just decided to seduce the footman. Wow!)…
But that’s also what makes it terrifying. Nerve-wrecking. Leading to shivers of self-doubt. I have to wonder if all this hap-dash slapped together and tied with bits of string will result in an obtuse, confusing, unpublishable piece of crap. Hence, my occasional yearning for a plan! An outline! If I could only nail this sucker down, I’d win. I’d be fabulous.
Luckily, I learned recently that best-selling author Suzan Elizabeth Phillips (the rom-com Queen of snappy dialogue) has a similar writing style, which she describes in the back of her novel It Had To Be You: “As you’ve probably figured out about now, I don’t do a lot of pre-planning and have a tendency to introduce characters and plot elements without any idea how to solve their conflicts.”
And her novels are best sellers. So, hurray! I guess there’s hope for me yet!
PS. How about you? Are you an outlining- pre-planning-got-details-figured-out-beforehand kind of writer? Or are you the intuitive-got-the-gist-of-it-but-making-it-up-as-I-go type? TAKE MY POLL and lets see the results!
PPS. And feel free to leave a comment too!