Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confessions of Plot-First Writer

Thinking about Thursday

This post first ran last  March. While I have finished the revisions mentioned, I am now smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo and realized my "Plot First" tendency has yet to be cured.  

I was three chapters into my NaNo before I realized my characters possessed supernatural powers. I figured this out shortly after one of the main characters blew up a car with his hand.  I literally had the thought, "OH, he's a superhero!"

How does that happen? 
Please read below.

I am swimming in a sea of revisions right now. So, much I am dreaming about my WIP (Not in the way Stephanie Meyer dreamt of Twilight and made a bazillion dollars. More in the way, I wake up feeling like I never slept and I still only have a  twenty in my pocket.) Working through this round of revisions with my awesome crit partner , I had some revelations about myself.

  • I am a "Plot-First" writer. This great post by Claire King  titled Layers Not Lines is a prime example of how I plot. With one glaring exception:
  • Remember, I said. "Plot-first"? That means, I don't think like this:
 "There is a woman, feeling heartbroken and lonely. She tries to hide this by acting strong willed and aloof, but is truly afraid and insecure." 
            I think like this:

"There is a building that burns down. Okay, what kind of building? Oh, it's an art Museum. Yeah, like the Kimbell. Someone, hmm, maybe a woman named...whatever, I'll name her later. She burns it down to hide that she stole several pieces of art. But she had to steal them because the bad guy.... for now, we'll just call him BG. He made her steal them or he was going to...." 

  • Why is this a problem? It has been politely pointed out that my "writing process" can leave my characters lacking introspection and depth. *Ouch*. During an eye-opening workshop with Anna DeStefano, she showed us how to "plot through characters." It is a fascinating, seemingly simple, yet truly complex process that she stated she could do for weeks. WEEKS! I'm not sure I heard much after that because my vision blurred and the room started to spin. I don't even spend weeks laying out my plot. ( I am also a trying-to-be-reformed Pantser, but that is a post for later.)      

  • So, how do I help my poor puppets characters? I give them faces, thanks to Google Images. I try to give them a bio and a theme song. I try, honestly, I try to fill out those character sketch forms. I am not criticizing them. I know they can be useful, but my brain protests. It screams, "What does her favorite flavor of ice cream have to do with her blowing up the art museum?
        So, where do you fall in the Plot vs. Character spectrum? If you are like me, how do make sure your characters aren't underdeveloped? If you are a "character writer", do you struggle to keep your plot moving like I struggle to keep my characters arcing? Is arcing a word?  



Teri Anne Stanley said...

I think, maybe, I fall somewhere in between. In the dmz of neither or both. I think, "What if this guy, who was going to grow up to be The Supreme Leader of the Universe got his legs cut off. How did he get his legs cut off? What motivated him to want to be SLU in the first place? What color pants did he wear for his first grade pictures?

I wonder why I am always chasing my tail?

Dawn Alexander said...

Teri~ All sounds perfectly logical to me!

Tressa Green said...

I'm a character first pantser. There's a reason I say I write literary fiction... that's because plot is secondary for me. Plot is less important than who the character is, where he came from, where he's going, how/why he got there and most importantly, what does he think about it?

If a plot develops on that journey, that's beside the point. XP

Really, I don't mind plots - I wish I could write them, but I wouldn't be able to write a plot driven story if my life depended on it. Isn't it fascinating how everyone works so differently?

Jerrie Alexander said...

I fall somewhere in the middle. My characters drive the story forward and occasionally, I'll get too caught up in the relationship. Then I have to go back and concentrate on the plot, add conflict or kill somebody! :)

I admit that I don't fill out the entire character description. I do one, but it my own pared down version.

Sadie Hart said...

I'm somewhere in the middle too. Characters come to me first, and nag to be written... But ironically I don't know much about them. I'm a pantser who's more apt to discover a plot along the way than character details. -working on that-

One of the things that's helped me a TON, is Susan Bischoff's Blueprint (on her download page) and this blog post:

My external GMC's tend to be the main plot, however, finally starting to understand the internal GMC's has helped me start bring my characters to life in each scene.

Julie Glover said...

It's fascinating to hear about other writers' processes! I don't make long character sketches, but I feel like I know my characters very well. Every plot I write is about character growth far more than what happens. I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters a lot, but I don't write it down. Maybe I should.

Then again, what you describe sounds like it would make a great read!