Monday, October 25

The Best Way to Unstick Yourself Is to Not Get Stuck

Our theme for the week is what to do when your plot gets stuck. And I'm going to (respectfully) annoy about 50% of the writers out there by saying...don't get stuck in the first place! That's right, I am a lifelong plotter. While I know that some people prefer to write 'by the seat of their pants' - and kudos if it truly works for them - my very strong recommendation is to plot.

I've put a very rudimentary chart on the left. This was one of the first plotting charts I attempted. Now they are jazzier, with colors and expanding circles, but this is to show you how simple it can be. I've got major points in the journey for the hero and heroine listed, and then another one that shows the things they have to do together. I make one of these for all the major characters. If setting is major (as it usually is in my books), I make a wheel of places I want to use, so that I can integrate them. This is just the starting point.

I also have an outline for each chapter, and I keep a list of how many chapters are in each character's POV. This simplifies everything tremendously, so that when I sit down to actually write the story, the words can flow. The ONLY times I've ever gotten stuck are when I don't have a chapter outline. You can't write if you don't know where you're going!

But, in an effort to reach everyone, I do have a bit of advice for both plotters and pantsers, gleaned from a wonderful speech by Donald Maass at this year's RWA conference. He said that your job as a writer is to make your character do what is absolutely the best possible choice for them....and then show why that ends up being the worst possible thing they could have done. Dwell on that for a few minutes - it certainly leads to all sorts of interesting possibilities in my mind that I'd never considered.


  1. Great advice! I've recently begun to think that plotting sucks all the energy out of my stories, but it's awfully hard to write an ending by the seat of your pants.

  2. Great post, Christy! And you didn't annoy me one bit...of course that may be because I'm a pant-lotter...somewhere between pantster and plotter. A rough outline to stay on-track is a huge help to me, but a full scene-by-scene outline? Totally messes me up. Have yet to figure out why!

  3. I'm a pantser who wishes she was a plotter. I've gotten so I do write an outline with three or four scenes laid out for each chapter. (Thanks Laurie Schnebly!)
    and I'll keep trying until eventually it sticks...but that freedom of 3am in the morning, and fingers flying while all sorts of brilliance spills from your brain?
    that's a tough one to beat! =)

  4. I have the greatest admiration (and a Godawful amount of envy) for plotters, just as I admire POV purists, people who can identify their GMC BEFORE their story is written, and women whose hair always looks nice. But, for me, it will never happen, because when I have to give that much attention to the hows of writing, it becomes a job. While I love making money writing, mostly I just love writing, and I don't want it to be a job.

    Now I will slink away and see if I can pants my way out of this damn chapter I've been working on for two months...

    Great post, Christy.

  5. Do you ever think to yourself, how did I wind up in the middle of all these pantsers??? Love the Donald Maass quote--it does make me think.
    Good post. Although, I probably won't be putting up a chart anytime soon, I'm going to try and plot the rest of my book out--at least a bare bones plot---Authoress is having a Baker's dozen agent bid the first week of December and I'd love to be in the position to try and get a place at the table.

  6. Gotta wonder along with Margie how you ended up in this bunch! Glad you did, though. I am a pantster all the way. Always have been, always will be. Usually don't get stuck much unless it's something I'm trying to force, and my sub-something is say "whoa. put the brakes on, baby."
    Which if I was a plotter wouldn't happen. I get it.
    And I'm not annoyed either.
    Good post, good topic.