Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't Ask Me For Blueprints

What I'm reading: Captive of Sin, by Anna Campbell

No surprise to anyone reading this blog regularly that I'm not much of a plotter. In fact, I'm giving my "Plotting for Non-Plotters" workshop at the Emerald City Conference in a couple of weeks. Recent events made it clear I could never be an architect.

Now that the upstairs of our house is finished (although we still need some furniture), we're moving on to the basement. While the upstairs was purely cosmetic, downstairs is a conversion. The basement is technically "finished" in that it has carpet, heat and finished walls, but it's still one big space with the exception of a bathroom and laundry area. Making it into living space means more than replacing appliances, cabinets, or painting and installing new flooring.

So, we turned to an expert, an architect our contractor recommended. He showed up, we gave him our wish list, he quoted a price (ugh), and we agreed. He took some measurements and said he'd get back to us in a few days.

Now, when we were looking at the house, before we bought it, we had some mental pictures of where the guest room would go, how we'd shift the washer and dryer to the adjacent wall to make the laundry 'area' a real room.

The architect called us in for a meeting to look at the preliminary plans. He'd made the space totally different. He moved the laundry room to a new location, put the guest room at the other end, added a hallway, and advised us to move two existing doors and add a window.

What we'd envisioned? No. Would it work? Definitely, and much better than our initial visions.

After we agreed that his ideas were much better than ours, he said he'd draw up the real plans, the blueprints we'd give contractors for bids. He started asking questions. Did we want a ceiling light in the guest room? A switched outlet beside the bed? What about built-in bookshelves in the living space? Sound insulation in the bedroom walls? Where should the television go? Did we want new tile in the bathroom? Did we want a door between the television room and the hall?

On top of all this, he was also dealing with where to put the requisite smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, electrical outlets, heating diffusers, and wiring for basic light fixtures.

If he were a writer, he'd definitely be a plotter. He has to cover all the details before he can draw up the final plans. Yes, we can make minor changes. But no moving walls or wiring. I confessed a total inability to 'see' those kinds of things. I could barely visualize the new space until I took the plans to the basement and compared them to the existing space.

With writing, I like the freedom to go back and make changes as I need them. I like the freedom to be able to write 52,000 words before figuring out what the secret ledger my heroine stole might contain. If Mrs. Fitzsimmons gives the dog a treat in chapter 18, I can go back to chapter 12 where she merely pets the dog and establish that she carries the treats in her pocket. It shows her character, but also leaves the door open for me to turn it into something more significant if I need to. I don't know what my villain does for a living yet, or where he lives.Those are details easy enough to fill in later, much to the chagrin of one of my crit partners.

I move walls as I write. I don't have an outline, much less a blueprint. Characters reveal back story as the story unfolds, and I go move some wiring. Plot points come and go. Yet I've managed to finish 6 books. However, I don't think it would be a good idea to ask me to design your house!

Tomorrow, my guest is LA police officer Kathy Bennett. Definitely a must-read. Come back.

And Randy and Sarah's epilogue, A Summer's Eve is now available at the Kindle Store as well as Smashwords. Hope you'll take a look. (check the Short Stories tab above)


Joanne Stewart said...

Great post, Terry. I'm with you. A total pantser. I need to know two things before I write--a beginning scene and an ending scene, and then I jump in. I have to have some small idea of where I'm going. Otherwise, I'm with you, rearranging windows.

Beth Trissel said...

Excellent post, Terry. I try to plan but for the most part rely on knowing my time period/setting and characters well, with an ultimate outcome in mind and key events I want to visit along the way. Details are beyond me.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Obviously, you know how to plot a book! But
architecture is a different story. (Forgive the bad play on words)

Sherry Gloag said...

I am so NOT a plotter. When I tried to the characters sulked and went on strike! can you believe it? LOL.
Hope you have a wonderful workshop.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Hi, Terry great post. To take your blog behinds scenes ever further, the architect will or should confer with a structural engineer to make sure his design works. (worked for a structural engineer for ten years ;) Perhaps the architect is the outline and the engineer is the research? We can always make it about writing. Good luck with your remodel!

C.C. Harrison said...

PLOT! PLOT! PLOT! I always know where I am going when writing my book. I don't always know how I'll get there, but I always know what needs to happen next. So much less re-work! So much less re-writing! So much less angst!

Yes, sometimes characters walk onto the page from the sidelines, but by then they usually fit right in, so I go with them. Yes, detours sometimes appear, but they are never wild tangents, so they almost always lead right back to the main story line.

And I revise as I go, so when I reach the end, I have an almost finished manuscript. Which is a good thing, because by then another book is coming together in my head.

There is no such thing as writer's block, only lack of planning.

Terry Odell said...

Joanne - I think there's a basic structure for most genre fiction, so it's not like we're starting without a foundation or some framework. But I have to be able to move those windows!

Beth - ah, yes, the devil's in the details

Jacqueline - I use the same "plot" for all my romantic suspense books. It's part of my presentation.

Sherry - I hear you. I'm usually about 1 scene ahead of the story when I write.

Donnell - thanks for the extended analogy.

CC - I know where I'm going, too. I just don't know exactly how I'll get there. And I also edit and revise as I go, so when I'm done, I'd say I've got a product that's more in need of tweaks than rewrites.

Kathy said...

Terry I'm with you I can't really plot out the story before I write it. I can sort of have an idea of what the story is about and where to go with it. But not all the details, where would be the fun of that is the way I think.

Scott B. said...

Terry, the short answer to your question is yes. I say that because I'm a pantser and a licensed architect in the US and Canada. It's true we need to know most of the details before we create a final drawings. However, just as we writers go through various drafts and edits, we architects do too. We just call them "preliminary."

As for my process (both writing and architecture), I lay out my general idea and massage it as I go. My first draft usually takes me longer than most folks because I work out major details as I go. In architecture, getting the first draft as good as can be as soon as can be is most efficient. I think I carry that process into my writing. It takes me longer than most folks for first drafts, but a lot less time for revisions and edits.

Just a brief glimpse into this architect's mind. :) Thanks, Terry. Great blog!

Wynter said...

Now that I write some romantic suspense books, I have no idea how you plot as you go. I remember you asking me several years ago to help you figure out who was on the phone calling your heroine. (Still makes me chuckle.)

Terry Odell said...

Kathy, I think we all have a "plan" even if it's not a "plot" when we start.

Scott - thanks for the insight from both sides. I admire you. Perhaps it's because you have some constants and "rules" of building codes that you can use as a starting point. Plus, I imagine your clients have a wish list, which would translate to plot points.

Wynter - I remember that too! And you had the perfect answer. I get there--eventually--and I do have the broad strokes in "Bad Stuff Will Happen." I just prefer to jump into the writing without really understanding exactly what that Bad Stuff might be. I figure if I don't see it coming, the reader won't either. Good luck with your RS books.

Sue Perkins said...

Definitely a pantster. I need to know the heroine's name and the opening scene with a rough idea of the setting and what's going to happen in the first two or three chapters. After that it's all up to the fingers on the keyboard. Tried plotting but to me it was the same as telling someone about your storyline, when I came to right it the sparkle had gone out of it.

Carol Kilgore said...

I think I might be becoming more of a plotter, but I definitely have pantser roots. What on earth will you do with all your free time after remodeling is complete - LOL!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's exactly what I like about NOT outlining!

Although recently I *had* to outline for a potential project--it required a synopsis. I have to admit that there were *some* advantages to outlining...but I don't think I'll do it again unless I have to. :)

Terry Odell said...

Carol - I imagine I'll have more time to write! Or at least the ability to concentrate on writing.

Elizabeth - I have mixed feelings about that -- on the one hand, selling on synopsis means you don't have to write every book and hope someone will accept it. But it'd be tough for me.

Karla said...

I can plot, the problem is that while I'm plotting I get carried away with bigger and better plots! So I'm always revising my "blueprint" along the way.

Janice Seagraves said...

Sounds like the way I write too.


Terry Odell said...

Karla - glad we don't have to use stone tablets and chisels!

Janice - judging from the comments, there are a lot of us.

Mimi Barbour said...

Hi Terry,
Geez...blueprints, plotting, goals...all those words make me sorta jittery. Every time I figure I've set my goal, done my plotting and have a blurprint, I sit down at that darn computer and then everything just flies out the characters have a blasted mind of their own and no matter how much I try and keep them in line the little beggers won't listen - they keep surprising the heck outta me.
I guess that's why I love to write!
Looking forwaord to meeting up with you at the ECWC in Oct.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Like you, I'm not a plotter. My characters all have minds of their own. Who am I to argue?


Rebecca J. Clark said...

I can't wait to come to your workshop at ECWC! Sounds like just what I need.

I'm definitely a pantser. I've tried to be a plotter for my past few stories, but haven't been able to finish anything, maybe because I get bored with the story if I already know what's going to happen. I'm going back to my pantser roots, where I know a little about my characters, a little about what's going to happen, then I just write. Yes, it makes for a messy first draft, but that's my process.

Terry Odell said...

Mimi, Rebecca - ECWC should be great fun. Looking forward to meeting you there.

Patricia - I've found arguing with characters to be a waste of time for the most part.