Saturday, October 06, 2007

Part Five: Plot Humps For Planners

While planners tend to know intimate details about their plots and characters this omnipotent knowledge can often prove more troublesome then the blind faith of ‘seat of the pants’ writers. Many writers find their story and characters seem to take on a life of their own. Sometimes, that life simply won’t be boxed into pre-arranged plans. Like raising a two-year-old you have to be prepared for plot tantrums and the stubborn mind-of-its-own your story may develop.

Character Dark Holes
Characters, just like living creatures, grow and change with time and experience. Sometimes, these changes are controlled by you, the writer. They’ve been written into the story and each of the conflict elements of the plot have been designed to bring about these changes.

No matter how much time you spend ‘getting to know’ your character, however, you’ll continue to discover new and remarkable aspects as you write. These new details can lead your character down roads you never considered. Characters can come alive for you on the page and you’ll find aspects, even those you already set into your notes, will change to suit the altering image of the characters as they become more concrete in your mind.

The Missing Element
Human fallacy is normal. Regardless of the intricate and intense detail you added to your plot before you began there are occasions when you will miss vital elements that impact your novel and its characters. These may be points you never considered or that come about because of other changes that occur during the writing process. They could be related to your inexperience with a subject that arises in your novel or be connected to research you never uncovered.

An Unexpected Plot Detour
With changing characters come changing roads. While you might have planned a grand action scene in the fourth chapter you may discover as you write that you spend more time in other scenes. An opportunity for interesting character development may arise earlier that would be worth exploring or a character who had originally been invented to perform a small role becomes larger than life and deserves a greater portion of your book.

Devastating Consequences
These sorts of black holes, missing elements and unexpected detours cannot always be planned before you begin writing. You could ignore them and write on, strictly adhering to your original plot but forcing strictures on your plot or character can lead to devastating consequences.

DC 1: Shallow Worlds
A novel has a world all of its own. It’s an alternate reality that requires a writer to ooze a sense of existence into it. If your story is based in London then you need to echo London as you write but you haven’t really created London, you’ve created a fictional mirror of a physical place. The setting is enriched by the elements that get built into this fictional mirror and bring it to life, a world of its own.

DC 2: 2D Character
Adhering strictly to your original character details can leave your character without the integrity and depth needed for a fully realized character. 2D characters lack the elements that allow readers to connect and feel compassion for them. Readers have to care about your characters or they will not care what happens to them. Your original plan can create a sketch of your character but it never contains the multiple facets and depths your character develops as it takes on a life of its own.

DC 3: Ragged Plot
Forcing yourself to write the scenes planned without flexing to allow changes will leave you with a ragged plot. Even if every element was planned and laid in a perfect form, the mood of your scenes will feel disjointed and lack the continuity that a novel needs. Allowing yourself to flow with your story will help your scenes connect and tie to each other. Planning can strengthen your conviction to write but remaining in the rut of your plan when called to detour will tear the fluid consistency of your plot into ragged shreds.

DC 4: Writer’s Block
Finally, there is one significant sign that a writer is stubbornly refusing to bend to the will of their story or characters. It’s often named "writer's block" and while it has many causes, planners suffer it greatest when they’re trying to force their story into the mould they originally created for it. The longer you try to write a scene that just doesn’t belong there the harder it will be to write anything at all. The more often you mention you characters dead father, when your character is firmly insistent that the father will appear in a later scene, the harder you’ll find it to keep writing.

The Solution
Ultimately, the only way to avoid these plot humps is to allow for change. True planners must learn to relax the stricture of their habits. Take on some of the easy-going tendencies of ‘seat of the pants’ writers. The best writers find a balance in the two degrees that work best for them. There will always be challenges as you write your novel’s first draft; it is these challenges that strengthen our resolve and give our novels the depth and passion that readers (and publishers) are looking for.


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17 Comments:

Anonymous Natasha said...

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for this series - it's giving me a lot of things to think about in terms of how I approach my writing.

I do tend to plan my plot before I start, knowing what's happened before chapter one, and what will happen before the end.

However, when it comes to characters, I tend to write my first draft blind and let them develop themselves. Once I'm done, I'll read through and take notes about things like eye colour, age (in relation to plot) and make sure they're consistent all the way through.

Because they evolve, their personalities tend to change over the period of writing that first draft, which means that I have to rewrite earlier (or later) chapters... Possibly if I had a plan that wouldn't happen. However, as you say, I'd prefer to let them 'grow and change with time and experience' - at least to start with.

Best wishes
Tash

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

So much good stuff here! Thank you.

Thanks for the Eight Things meme. Enjoyed learning about you. How did you find out about the insect allergy?

I've gone to the site to try to put in my eight things but haven't figured it out. Do I register and then do as a comment?

Not sure I have eight bloggy friends to tag.... Guess that's how I'll make them, huh?

8:59 AM  
Anonymous julia ward said...

Wonderful series. I'm focusing on writing freelance magazine articles but now you've got me thinking about a story I've been plotting in my head for about three years. Hmmmmmmm... a fable perhaps! The Butterchurn and the Gypsy. I need to write!

blessings,
julia
julia ward - a BLINDING heart - a writer's blog
www.ablindingheart.com

6:05 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Natasha: Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you're enjoying the series. I've noticed the same thing with my characters. No matter how much I put together pre-writing the character seem to become more solid, more 'real' as I write them. They'll share themselves with me after association and often what I put together in the early pre-writing stage will get revised or even scraped by the end. There is no way to 'force' a character into a preconceived mold.

Anne: I found out like most people do, by getting stung and nearly dying. I was very young at the time. My family had a tree in the backyard that the bees loved and as a toddler I got stung all the time crawling or walking in the backyard. Then I didn't get stung for a couple of years and the next time I did get stung my body overreacted to the venom, shutting down my system. These days it's always a risk. Sometimes I'll have a normal reaction others it will be life threatening. Thankfully, I'm very wary of bees so I don't get stung nearly as often as I did as a child.

Julia: It's great to see you! I hope you went off and wrote that fable, it sounds like an interesting idea and writing fiction is such a wonderful change from non-fiction. I've been writing more and more articles lately but the real joy is in the genre that was always my niche.

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm glad the series is interesting and inspiring writers. If anyone has suggestions for other topics they'd like to know more about, please, let me know. :-)

10:44 PM  
Anonymous twizzle said...

ah. my characters. they drive me ya-ya. :(

Let's just say I'm not a planner, not with plot OR life. eek. So one thing I've had to do is really let go. Esp in thinking about it. Like when one of my characters suddenly developed this weird cough. Where the heck did that come from?!? Best not to think about it. :)

great post!

11:39 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Welcome to the Round-About Kelley! :-) It would be interesting to see what comes of the cough later into the story. Fictional characters never seem to get sick without a very good, plot-driven reason.

You sound like a 'seat of the pants' writer. I'd love to know your results for the Are you a Pantser or a Planner? Quiz

9:20 AM  
Blogger Terry Heath said...

I wonder if the "seat of the pants" writer is responding to some sort of subconscious plan. Maybe the cough was always there, you just weren't in a place where you could hear it? Maybe the story, or at least its message, is already there but we just have to get it flowing from our subconscious mind.

I also wonder if too much "planning" makes us turn a deaf ear to our subconscious and the tale it has to tell. Some planning, however, helps us to release the story and characters from our subconscious in small pieces.

But I'm just talking off the top of my head. ;-)

9:46 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

:-) You may have something there, Terry. The subconscious works in strange ways. Some writers believe they channel their stories, others believe the stories have always been inside them waiting for them to listen enough to get them on the page. I suspect we each come to our writing differently.

Perhaps each story is different as well. Two years ago I had a remarkable dream. I woke up from it inspired to tell it as a book. I wrote down everything I could remember of the dream and two years later the book still isn't written but I AM still determined it will be, some day. Meanwhile, I'm writing the first of a series of books that I'd never have imagined I could come up with. It was thanks to the inspiration of a friend that these characters and this world first found root but now I'm just as determined to see their story through to the end.

Were both stories always in my subconscious? Was just the first? I think perhaps, while we aren't writing our subconscious mind is working on the story so that each time we come back to the page a little more of it is already written in our mind.

The psychological roles involved in writing could be a whole new series. *chuckles* Thanks for stopping by, Terry, and for your thought provoking comment.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Virginia Lee said...

Wow! I couldn't have read this at a better time, Rebecca. I tell myself that my improv experience will keep me from getting all shook up (heh) by my plot and characters, but I know that I'll run into a glitch here and there. I'm printing this post out and sticking it on my writing wall so I don't lose track of it.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Kathleen Frassrand said...

Oh that horrible writer's block. I actually stopped halfway through one of my novels and just gave up on it. I couldn't make the ending work. I am a planner, but I hadn't planned it well enough. Once my characters started making their own decisions on the plot... I lost my ending. It has been about a year now.. and I'm still patiently waiting for the perfect ending to POP into my head. UGH..

Thanks for all the great info in this post. It was a wonderful read!

4:51 AM  
Blogger Bill Fullerton said...

First-rate piece of writing adive, Rebecca. I'm a "pencil planner." I do character profiles and an outline before starting a novel, but I write them with the firm conviction they aren't chiseled in stone but will change and evolve.

FWIW, I done DIGG'ed ya.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

*blushes* Thank you Virginia and Bill. I'm truly honored that you have all enjoyed this post so much. I'm glad others are finding my entries useful.

Kathleen, you may eventually come back to that story, or you may not. I know there are a couple I began that I won't return to. Sometimes stories are just there to begin and aren't actually meant to be finished. Sometimes, they ARE so follow your instincts. :-)

11:18 PM  
Anonymous twizzle said...

it's a great post, and loved the quiz, btw. I call it strings and mouseholes. From the Rowling/King/Irving thing in NYC. King said he sees his writing as following a string to the mousehole. And he has no idea what's in the mousehole--he just goes where the string takes him. Irving said he's has thoroughly inspected and pulled all permits on the mousehole before he goes in. Me? I'm the sheep. Before it gets shorn, and the wool even gets turned into the yarn that forms the string. Yes. I'm that bad. But, so far, it's working.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Michele L. Tune said...

Like I've said before, I'm more into nonfiction at the moment, but I am really enjoying this series, Rebecca!

Actually, when I was about 14-years-old, I started writing the first of a fictional series. I never finished it, though, and have at times wondered if I ever will. I think I might.

I have had fictional characters floating around in my head for a while now. I've written a few thousand words of yet another book, but haven't gone back to it yet.

You give a writer a lot to think about. Perhaps, I'll spend some time polishing my characters and plot and allow the fictional pieces I've began actually turn into something I can be proud of....

Smiles,
Michele

8:40 AM  
Blogger Scriptorius Rex said...

Most of those Devastating Consequences have happened to me at one point or another. Well framed advice, Rebecca.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Steve M said...

Great tips Rebbecca,

One of the joys i find in writing is letting the characters and plot evolve over time, but it does sometimes get me into a corner that is hard to get out of. This series has had some great advice

2:04 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Kelley: I've never heard it put that way before. Are there any links to the NYC 'thing'? I'd love to read more about it. :-)

Michele: It's always fun to return to fiction even if you primarily work with non-fiction. I hope these entries offer you some ideas and inspire you to return to the unique exploration of character depth and world-building.

Jeff: Alas, I expect most or all of the DC's are troubles writers will cross at some point. It helps to do what we can to avoid little problems getting worse and it's always important to remember that these sorts of things can be fixed in future drafts. Welcome to the Writer's Round-About, it's great to see you!

Steve: I'm glad you've enjoyed the series Steve. It can be tricky to get characters out of their little corners but it can be fun too.

Thanks everyone for reading!

4:55 PM  

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