“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
― W. Somerset Maugham
I promised you the low down on the various talks I attended, so here was the first one: “Understanding Your Style” by Leeanne Harris,
For those of us who struggle with how to put together a plot, this one can be a real eye-opener. You’ll notice my quote from Maugham at the top of this post. It’s there to underscore the truth of Leeanne’s talk. Her whole point was, there’s a range of plotting styles you can use that are perfectly legit. For those of you struggling with outlines that kill your story, don’t fret. For those of you accustomed to pantsing your way through a novel, this might help you, too.
There are a spectrum of plotting styles. (I tried to input a diagram, but I’m still learning WordPress and it doesn’t like me right now.) There’s the Linear plotter who knows the inside and outside of each character and plot point before ever sitting down to write a word. This kind of writer will frequently write a synopsis and not vary from it at all.
Advantages to this kind of plotting include:
Disadvantages: 1. The author knows what’s going to happen and can get bored. As a middle-of-the-road pantser, I can tell you my characters want to tell me who they are and what they believe. If I don’t let them, they’ll go out on strike and I have no book. This is why I say a linear writer might find this post helpful. If you’re bored or blocked on your book, change things up. *Gasp* Cut loose and do a scene in the middle of your book, or write what author Holly Lisle refers to as a candy bar scene: that battle or sex bit you’ve looked forward to writing since you came up with the idea. Then go on from there or write other scenes. Your linear style may have stymied you, so go around that block. The outline is there to help you. If it’s not helping, it’s time to move to a different point on the plotting continuum.
You can therefore guess the pros and cons of the Pantser or Big Picture life.
Linear writers feel out characters and write a synopsis. Everything is written in order.
Big picture authors write scenes as they pop into the writer’s head and can be moved at the writer’s whim. These people sometimes don’t write any sort of outline until events are about half done or even until they’re on the second draft and they have a clear notion of what the book’s really about. Big picture authors will leave notes or brackets to themselves to delineate scenes that still need to be written. (I do all of that, but I also I like to number my chapters as individual files. I had saved my first book as a huge file on my computer and the file became corrupted. TRAGICALLY, that means that file is no longer accessible and the world will never know what an enormous piece of trash that book was. I can tell you, though, this taught me to save my next book in small pieces: 1.5, 2, 2.5. Then if I need to switch a chapter, I change the name to 1.2 so it still fits numerically.)
Now we’ve all heard of plot and character driven plots, right? Did you know there’s a third type?
In a plot driven story, the situation occurs and the characters required by that situation present themselves:
In character-driven plots, the character dominates and drives everything – so much so that the story is even sometimes named after them:
And then there are Theme-driven stories (I’d never heard of this category, but it makes sense to me.) In Theme-driven stories, the author gives the character a challenge and gives them a chance to solve the problem.
Lastly, Leeanne talked about how plots come to authors. Characters can occur first, then you come up with a plot for that person to face. It seems to me that method makes the most sense with Theme-driven and Character-driven stories. Then you can build the story around that character. You can also find a situation and fit it with appropriate characters. This is ideal for Plot-driven tales.
Most of all, I want to reiterate Mr. Maugham’s statement. There is no correct way to do our job, folks. The only thing I know of that you must do as an author is write, so return to your word processors or note pads and do it, but let me know if this helps. I’d love to know how you approach this part of story-telling.