Thursday, December 04, 2008

Plotting Along

Plot coach Martha Alderson has declared December to be National Plot Writing Month. And I am taking Dennis Foley's plotting class right now through Writers on the Net.

Dennis makes you outline. Yes, outline. And you live to tell the tale. He also raises questions and when you try to slide past them, following the many lovely distractions that novel-writing always throws up for the easily distracted writer, he raises them again. What does your protagonist want? Who stands in the way? What's the slice of your protagonist's life that this story covers? Why begin there? What's the event that launches the story? As I struggled to make my character struggle, I realized something. I was holding tight onto a story core that was, despite my best efforts to cloud it, getting clearer and clearer. I was playing out in my head the pre-writing that I would otherwise have done on the page–in fact, over dozens if not hundreds of pages. When I got distracted by subplots that kept raising their heads, the next week's round of posts and questions pointed me back, so I stayed focused on the through-line, inch by inch.

I must confess there were days I gnashed my teeth at facing that outline yet again. But now that I'm working my way through the last few scenes (sometimes backwards from the end, sometimes filling in gaps) I can see how much more I know about the story now. Could I write every novel this way? I don't know. I do believe that with every book I learn to write all over again, and that every book needs its own process. But for now, this class has made me think about this novel in greater depth than I was able to do before now. Nothing like having a knowledgeable teacher, someone who's not emotionally attached to the work, hold your feet to the fire.


  1. Hi Uma,

    Google alert notified me and I followed the link to find you!!

    Thank you so much for mentioning International Plot Writing Month. We're doing much the same sort of work it sounds like you're doing in your class.

    Great good luck with your story!

    Hope your readers will visit and prepare for writing their next draft.

    Happy holidays!


  2. This is very useful for me! I am terrible about getting distracted by subplots. I'm right in the middle of a big hairy rewrite, and those questions will really help me focus.
    Thank you for this inspiration.

  3. My biggest hurdle is my tendency to protect my characters--in early drafts they will do anything to avoid conflict. They'll go for walks, leave the room, throw away the invitation to the party. That's why outlining's useful, because it takes less time to write an revise a few dead scenes in outline mode than by actually writing them out. That's not to say that you can't practice scenes to get into character and understand the story. I usually do that first, when the story idea first shows up. You have to find the combination of organization and chaos that works for you.