I call myself a minimalist plotter. Because I do plot my stories. I plan out story arcs, and spend days world building and drawing maps (I really like maps!). I get to know characters so that their POVs will feel comfortable when I jump into their head and see their world. That is a lot of plotting.
But I don’t plan every scene nor every twist of a novel. I prefer to leave a lot of room for happenstance and for the characters to react as they see fit, trusting they will follow the compass forward and lead the story.
I mentioned in my last post that I write a brief goal at the beginning of every chapter while novel writing. This is a technique I’ve developed over the course of three novels and one set of linked short stories. I’ve discovered that the time I spend plotting where I want the chapter to go and what place it has in the novel to advance the plot is worth the time to do it.
And that is really what it is all about: time.
I know few writers whose full-time job is writing. Most of us have not only lives, spouses, kids, vacations, and hobbies other than writing (?!?!), but we also have full time jobs. Plus we write. And we need to write. It is more important than breathing. Really, ask a writer. They’d give up air – briefly – for a great sentence!
So I have to balance this overwhelming need to write and bring to life the stories running around in my head with the fact that I am also living and have commitments. Some of those other activities are fun (canoeing!) and some not (work, ugh). To get anywhere, I have to streamline as much as possible.
Which goes back to the idea of a minimalist plotter. If I want to actually produce work, which I really like doing (task oriented – the reward comes when milestones are hit!), I can’t spend all of my time wondering about where the story or scene is heading. I don’t want to sit and interview my character to get to know them better. I want to write dammit. And I want it to be good. Good enough that it just needs editing or a bit of rehashing but definitely not cutting! Cutting out whole chapters is not just destroying words but also wasted time. Time that could have been spent with family but was spent with words sitting in the bottom of a waste barrel. That is a bad feeling (even if it greatly improves the prose!).
But if I spend ALL of my time plotting, I still get nowhere. It is a conundrum.
The balance comes when I am comfortable with the world (usually by idly world building over a few months while I have another project rolling) and know the characters well enough (usually with background short stories that find a purpose as a blog post or such) that my role becomes stage director and stenographer. I set the initial scene, remind the characters of motivations or aspiration, and let them do all of the work. I just have to write things down and clean it up later.
So far the technique is working well. Perhaps too well, since the crew from my recently finished epic fantasy series is clamoring for another trilogy. And boy, do they make it tempting. I have the world, the characters, a new story arc. I just need the time to let them loose.
I’m sure my current pre-writing warm up of mild plotting will undergo further refinement. But it works for right now where I am in life and writing. I’m producing more decent writing now than in the past few years. I can’t complain about that! And my husband is still speaking to me. That is a good thing… except for when I’m writing. Then I try to tune him out. 😉
How do you plot or not? What balance of writing time versus the rest of life do you endeavor to strike?