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.
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!