Finding the Path

Recently, in conversation with other writers, a discussion about plotting came up. Ideas were shared about how to plot, and different techniques for sketching out story arcs and character arcs were examined, and I found it very useful and interesting, even if I didn’t have a huge amount to contribute.

Photo Credit: mpclemens via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mpclemens via Compfight cc

I’m not sure I have a ‘method’, as such; my most successful draft (which was ‘Emmeline’) was written largely on the fly, in a haze of inspiration, and honed to its current state in round after round of edits. I enjoyed that process hugely, and I’m hopeful that I’ll have an experience like it again with another book. You can’t help feeling exhilarated when writing this way, as though there’s a universe of story that you’re being allowed a glimpse into, or a momentary chance to link your brain with a larger plot, one which encompasses everything (if that doesn’t sound too ‘out there’). My current book, however, is different. It’s another beast entirely. It’s not flowing like ‘Emmeline’ did, which may have as much to do with my frame of mind and the situation I’m at in my life as it does with the actual story itself, but whatever the reason, it’s scary.

One of the writers I spoke to described how, when she’s plotting a novel, she plans out every chapter, to the point of writing a page or two on what’s going to happen in that chapter, and that essentially all she then does when creating her first draft is expand upon these detailed notes. This struck me as being a very good idea, and it isn’t something I’ve tried before. I don’t like being too detailed when I’m plotting, because I prefer to leave space for improvisation and last-second ideas, and I love to feel a plot resolving itself as you write, but I also feel entirely stuck right now. So, it’s time to try something else, and I decided I’d give her method a go, as much as I could.

So, yesterday, I wrote a chapter plan for this new book, a book which doesn’t exist yet. I won’t say it’s complete, or anywhere close; it certainly needs a lot more revision and work, and there are gaps in it which I’m trusting myself to figure out later, but the important thing is: I did it. And it helped. Not only did it help me to see that I do have a story to tell, but it showed me that there are more problems with it than I was willing to face up to before, and it also gave me an idea about how to wrap the story up. Again, it might come to nothing or change completely by the time it’s written, but I’m considering it progress.

Most importantly of all, it gave me back some of the enthusiasm I’d lost for this story, and made me eager to tackle it again (even though this will be the fourth time I’ve tried to write it!) I didn’t make notes as full as the ones my writer friend described – they’re far from being two or three pages per chapter (more like two or three lines!) – but at least I have a partial road map now. It has all the major landmarks, but it’s missing some of the finer detail. I’m hoping all that will become clear the closer I get, and I’m determined to get on the path and stay on it until this story is told.

However, as always, I beg you to send me a little of your finest luck. Truly, it seems clearer every day that each book written is a collaborative effort. I’m glad to have y’all on my team!

13 thoughts on “Finding the Path

  1. emmaleene

    We really should make meeting up a regular thing!
    Think I might try that for structuring my novel. At the moment it’s a chaotic mess of different folders and bits of documents with random words phrases images and potential ideas for what might happen which somehow have to congeal themselves into a coherent structure in the next two weeks. I feel like I’m trying to build a house in the dark. “I’ll just put this over here and that over there now where did I put that bit again?” I spend more time looking for stuff some days than I do writing! Another novelist friend of mine described the process as trying to make a jigsaw with blank pieces! I have a vague idea of what’s gong to happen sketching it out might help me to structure it.
    I’m glad it helped you and helped you generate ideas. My advice -Don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes when you feel stuck it can be due to lack of energy. A rest may be what you need for things to flow again. I think inspiration is a sneaky thing and strikes when it thinks we’re not looking!
    Any way I’ll send lots of lucky thoughts your way but you don’t need that you have real talent and determination. You are an inspiration.
    Happy plotting!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Emmaleene. I really think the plotting technique our mutual friend was talking about would help you, if you have so much material already amassed. It might be the best thing you could do to sort your book out into a narrative arc, which might help you to put the blocks where they’re needed. I do agree that being organised is so important! Good file management is key to successful novelling… 🙂 I found writing a chapter plan really helped me to focus, anyway, and I think you should definitely give it a go.

      Thanks for the insight re. lack of energy. I have been feeling wiped for at least a month, if I’m being honest – I feel like I’m running on empty! And that’s not terribly conducive to creativity. I really hope you meet your deadline, or that at least you’ve put some shape on your work by the end of the month, because I know it means a lot to you. But, again, try not to put too much pressure on yourself! (And, as we mentioned, if you want to get in touch with me when you have a draft ready, please do).

      Thanks for the lucky thoughts and the support – and we should definitely keep in touch more, even if meeting in person isn’t always practical.

      Happy writing/plotting/weekend! 🙂

      1. emmaleene

        I have sketched out a quick chronology of events and it is helping. It’s freeing up my brain to focus on the scenes themselves. There are a few blocks that I’m still not sure of but I think it’ll become more obvious where they belong as the structure becomes more solid. At the moment I’m enjoying the process!
        It is difficult to be creative when you don’t have energy. I hope you manage to get a rest. I have a theory that somewhere in our evolutionary history, us humans were hibernating creatures and somehow the cells of our bodies recognise Winter as a time to sleep and reserve energy. I hope as the level of light increases in our sky so too do your energy levels.
        Hope you are having a nice weekend!

  2. Maurice A. Barry

    Just out of curiosity–did you ever consider using some mind mapping software (such as free mind) instead of writing an outline? I find that tactic useful whenever planning projects for work, although I will admit I don’t use the software, choosing instead to do it on a standard whiteboard.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      I have mind-mapped before (again, not using software, just plain ol’ big sheets of paper and a black marker (or are they called ‘Sharpies’ in your part of the world? :)), but I haven’t tried it for this particular book.

      *makes note* Another great idea to try…

      Thanks, Maurice. Mind-mapping might be a more freeing approach to what I’m trying to do, and might put me under less pressure.


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