Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How do you plot?

What I'm reading: Hit List, by Lawrence Block

What I'm writing: Fozzie's book, Chapter Three.

I managed to hit my word count goal yesterday even though I had to do some cutting to adjust for plot changes. Plot changes? Are you allowed to change the plot?

I'm definitely not a plotter in the traditional sense. That is, I can't lay out an entire book. Some authors do, and they'd be lost without their roadmap, or outline, or synposis. I'm in as much awe of them as I'm sure they're in awe of authors who simply plunge in.

But I don't think anyone 'doesn't plot'. It's a matter of process. For me, it entails getting to know my characters. I don't do those detailed biographies, but I do like to know enough about the family history (after all, I might want to write another book about the hero's brother or sister some day, so it helps to know if there are any siblings.) And I want to know the bare bones about the emotional state of their childhoods. Did they come from wealth? Poverty? Were they loved? Abused? That lets me know what kind of conflicts I get to throw at them, and also how they're likely to react in any given situation.

Because I've been writing about a team of covert operatives who work for a private firm, I've started each book with a scene showing them 'in action'. Showing the hero in real life fits in with the "Hero's Journey", and it also shows the reader what the character is capable of. Would anyone have "bought" that Indiana Jones could do all that heroic stuff if the movie had opened in the classroom instead of the jungle?

But my heroes are "comfortable" doing hostage rescue. It's civilization that gives them the willies. Naturally, that's where the book has to go. So, after tossing out possibilities all day with my daughter, we got the book "plotted" to a point. And that point was Page One. Who's the hero? Who's the heroine? How will they hook up? (still working on that one!). And what's the plot payoff? The romance part is a given -- has to be a HEA or it's not a romance. But what choices will my characters make along the way. And, to quote Deb Dixon, the choices have to be between 'sucky' and 'suckier'.

And those are the things I love to discover as I go along.

From there, I do a lot of 'head writing.' Nothing on the page, but lots of wandering through the house, driving, doing laundry, shopping, all the while listening to my characters and dealing with the 'what if' scenarios. Is it plotting if it's not on paper? I say yes.


Macy O'Neal said...

My stories seem to work best when I have lots of that "plot in my head time". I call it fermenting. Lots of fermenting.....

Katie Reus said...

I do a lot of head writing too, usually when I'm driving. Don't know if that's such a great thing, but I'm glad I'm not alone. I usually carry a pad and pen w/ me in case I have an 'ah-ha' moment concerning a plot :)

Terry Odell said...

So true, Macy & Katie:

I love the head writing. And no carpal tunnel worries! My characters often show up in the backseat of my car, or even in the shower.