Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Art of Plotting & Book Giveaway

I asked author Sandra Orchard if she'd be willing to share how she plots. As a panster I could use all the help I can get, and after reading Sandra's notes I realized I'm not totally a panster anymore after all. There is hope for me, I guess! Anyway, without further ado, let's hear what Sandra has to say:

Eileen has asked me to share how I plot my stories. I'm not sure I'll convert her from being a pantser. Except to observe, that many self-proclaimed pantsers are really longhand plotters. That is they figure out the story as they write the first draft, but unless they have a really good "feel" for the essential elements of a story, it can take many more drafts to work those elements in.

That said, even as a plotter who had thought through the GMCs of my characters and the main turning points before beginning the first draft of Deep Cover, since I didn't have a solid grasp of essential story elements at that point, the final story evolved over many, many drafts.

In contrast, I submitted the sequel with only minor revisions to the first draft. I wrote a second draft at the request of my editor to add more elements of the heroine in danger and to heighten romantic tension, which I’d polished with the help of my wonderful critique partners, so final line edits were minimal.

All that to say, pre-plotting is only as effective as our understanding of story. The more we write and read and revise, the stronger that becomes. And sometimes it's the story that causes troubles. Some stories seem to write themselves, whereas others, especially if they make us dig into places we don't really want to go, become excruciatingly painful to write.

Enough preamble…

I start with a story idea. It may be a character, an occupation, a crime. For example, while visiting a writing friend who is dying of cancer, her handsome male nurse came to check on her. I remarked that he'd make a great hero for my next book. So… after he left, we brainstormed his story. That was over a month ago, and it's still stewing in the back of my mind as I work on revisions for my third book, and write blog posts etc.

We came up with an inciting incident, a heroine, her complete backstory and GMC (ie goal, motivation, conflict), and several main points of the suspense plot. What I have yet to figure out is the hero's GMC, the romantic conflict, and what needs to change in him before he can be with the heroine. I have lots of ideas, but nothing has gelled yet. And to be honest, I haven't had time to give it much thought.

The important thing to keep in mind at this stage is that the more interrelatedness you can create between each of the hero and heroine's internal conflicts, the external conflict, and the romantic conflict, the better.

From the outset, I find it useful to frame the concept of the story as a "what if?" question. The answer leads to further "what if?" questions, and the answers become the structure of your story. The theme of your story (i.e. what your story is illuminating about real life) often becomes clear in this process. I have one critique partner who is particularly adept at spotting it. Understanding this somewhat ethereal thing is useful, because then you can be more purposeful in the events you bring into the story.

For example, my "what if?" question for Deep Cover was: what if an undercover cop finds the perfect woman, but can’t tell her who he really is or what he does for a living? The theme that evolved was twofold. Does the end justify the means? Or more personally, is it possible to be a man of honor and live a life of lies?

If you're planning on attending the early bird session at ACFW this year, you'll be learning about premise. I find it useful to frame the premise of my story as early as possible, because then I'm always looking for how it can be illustrated in a scene. The premise of Deep Cover is simply that truth overcomes betrayal.

Okay, is your head spinning?

Mine still does when I try to wrap my mind around all these ideas. But that's the fun, and power, of brainstorming. You start to see threads that work together, that share a common theme. As we write, we often intuitively include elements that enrich the theme, even when we haven't consciously figured out what that theme is!

Once I have a general idea of the main plot points of the suspense and romantic plots, and a decent grasp of my hero and heroine's internal, external and romantic conflicts (and it would take many more blogs to detail how I do that), I start writing. I usually write the first three chapters and then email them to my critique partners for feedback.

Writing a few chapters gives me a better feel for the voice of my characters and how well the plotting will work. At this point, I'll make adjustments to my framework as necessary, and then write the synopsis.

I must admit that I hate writing synopses. Pantsers biggest complaint is that all this pre-plotting takes away from the joy of discovering the story and the momentum of writing. Plotting doesn't do that to me. It energizes me, fills me with an overflowing well of ideas to draw upon. However, writing a detailed synopsis does. I prefer to plot the main turning points, black moment and epiphany, and then as I write the story, draw on the other ideas to fill in the gaps.

Clear as mud?

**It is to me now! Thanks Sandra for sharing this wealth of story planning! Since I do use the GMC model, I guess I'm not a total panster. I just need to delve into it a little deeper now to get the full benefit out of it. I'm thinking NANOWRIMO now, must put in my October calendar to do the PLOTTING first!!

Book Giveaway:

Remember, for every comment entered this week up until Thursday night your name will be entered to win a copy of Sandra Orchard's debut novel, Deep Cover. A great read!!

Good luck to everyone!

Surrendering to Him,



Eileen Astels Watson said...

Thanks for sharing all this, Sandra. Now I'm wondering if all your story elements are the same as mine?

Sandra Orchard said...

Your welcome, Eileen. I think everyone's line between a pantser and plotter is a little different. What do I know?!

Erica Vetsch said...

I'm a plotter who started out a pantser and had to convert to keep up.

I love that you brainstormed with your friend after the nurse left. :) What fun!

Jessica Nelson said...

I've always been a pantser but that required a ton of rewriting so now I try to at least have an idea of conflicts and goals before I start writing. And since I'm fixing to start another historical, I need to have a firm grasp of setting too. I'm feeling a little nervous with it.

Unknown said...

I love hearing about how people plot and come up with story ideas. I'm an obsessive plotter. I don't know what I would do without my huge excel spreadsheet.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Erica, I'm trying to convert myself now. You're proof it can be done, so now I have no excuses.

Jessica, I'm so very excited for you, girl. You plot away and write away and I can't wait to order your books!!

Julie, I've heard of others who use Excell. I would love to see a story plotted that way. Any chance you could do a post on this on your blog with a pic of such an excell sheet?

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandra, it sounds like your system works well. I'm impressed that you had so few edits on your first two books.

I'm sorry about your friend, but I think it's neat how you helped cheer her up by plotting a story about her hunky young male nurse.

Sandra Orchard said...

Wow, I go away for a couple of hours and look at all the conversation I missed! I've tried spread sheets. At the moment, I'm detailing revisions on a handwritten chart. I like to be able to add as I write without switching screens. But Julie's comment reminded me of something else I do in the early stages of plotting. I have a giant bulletin board on the wall that I use for a storyboard. It's divided into 20 chapters. I write scene ideas on post-it notes and then play around with where they will fit on the story board. I find it very helpful in figuring out pacing. I'll highlight romance plot points in one color and suspense plot points in another. I should by stocks in post-it notes! I'm making them lots of money :)

Loree Huebner said...

I'm a panster turning plotter as I go on my writer's journey.

I use a notebook but may have to invest in a big board!

It's been fun reading your journey. Thanks for sharing.

Sandra Orchard said...

Your welcome, I'm really enjoying "meeting" new people!

Susan R. Mills said...

Thanks for sharing, Sandra! Very helpful.

Sandra Orchard said...

Your welcome, Susan. Thanks for stopping by. I'm off now to my first-ever newspaper interview. Gulp. Wish me well.

Laura Pauling said...

I do a lot of prewriting and brainstorming - plotter all the way. But usually everything sharpens and sometimes changes in the first draft. Thanks for sharing!

Lily Whalen said...

I'm a pantser hoping to become a plotter! Oh, if only there were more hours in a day!

Robyn Campbell said...

Egad, panster here. But I love Sandra's system. It sure worked for her. Wondering if it could help me?

Great post, Sandra and Eileen!

Sandra Orchard said...

Yay, Eileen, we're converting pantsers! LOL

In fairness, there are many multi-published authors out there who are die-hard pantsers. Ultimately, you need to find the balance that works for you. That said, the more you understand the essential elements of a story, the easier it will be to ensure they're in your story as you write, whether by plan or by seat-of-your-pants. :)