Saturday, January 12, 2019

Plotting, Plotting

By Vicki Delany

I hate plotting. But I do it.

I used to be a ‘pantser’: a writer who doesn’t know where the story is going. Writes by the seat of her pants.
Vicki Writing (not exactly as shown)

This is different from a plotter: a writer who prepares a detailed outline ahead of time and thus knows where the book is going.

I’m not a total plotter. I usually write a good section of the book before I start plotting. I like to get the characters in my head, and an idea of what the story is going to be about. The only way I do that is by writing it. But then, when I’m maybe 10,000 words in, it’s time to start figuring the rest of it out.

Today was plotting day for Sherlock #6. I’ve started the story. I wrote the inciting incident. I’ve introduced (to myself as much as to anyone else) the guest characters. The murder in this book comes quite close to the beginning, so I know who died and how and what led up to it. I also know who dunit and why they dunit. Now, it’s time to get an outline for the remaining 70,000 or so words down on paper.

And I hate it.

So, why then do I do it you ask? I changed from a pantser to a plotter when I was signed by publishing houses that required an outline before giving a contract. I wrote the outline reluctantly and then found that it helped me write the book an enormous amount. Get the hard part out of the way, I found, and the rest is easy(er).

For a case in point, see Barbara’s recent post on shitty first drafts and the mushy middle (

One of my publishers doesn’t strictly require an outline, but I send it to them anyway. If there is anything they don’t like, I’d rather know about it now than when I’ve fished the book and incorporated that sticky point into the final product. As an example the outline for Body on Baker Street had Gemma and Jayne breaking into the police station in search of clues. UH, no, said my editor, that’s going too far.

So instead Gemma is thinking about breaking into the police station, when Detective Ryan guesses what she’s up to and puts a stop to it.  She manages to find out what she needs to know another (less illegal) way.

Today I plotted.  That involved a lot of pacing around the house. It helps that it’s -13 degrees today, without wind-chill, so I wasn’t temped to venture outside except to get more firewood from the garage. I paced, I thought, I cursed. I made notes. I tried to turn those notes into sentences.

By 2:00 I had a fairly good idea of what I want to do.  I still have a lot of ???? in the outline, but I’ll ponder those for the rest of the day and then try to finish the outline tomorrow.

It won’t be perfect, and things can change. But I’ll have a good solid road map that I can follow, and hopefully, not get bogged down in the soggy middle.


Donis Casey said...

This is a timely post for me! I'm just thinking that a detailed outline might really help my progress, but I don't enjoy outlining either. I've never really done much more than jot out a sketchy outline before writing, and sometimes a limited outline to help me get out of the woods in the middle. But outline or no, I also pace around a lot while trying to work out sticky spots. What is it about walking that lubricates the brain?

Sybil Johnson said...

I actually enjoy plotting though I've become less of a plotter and more of a pantser as time has gone on.I don't do super detailed outlines, though. Just enough to figure out where I'm going in the book from a fairly high level at first. Then I fill it in along the way.

Rick Blechta said...

I've had to work this way for the novellas because the publisher wanted that. I didn't like it either, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Right?

I think the secret is to treat an outlined plot as a guideline only -- and then keep reminding yourself. My second novella, The Boom Room had a plot outline that I actually stuck to until the penultimate chapter. Then I realized that the solution of the mystery was something completely different than the one I had set out, but I forced myself to write the ending of the book. It wasn't bad -- but it also wasn't as good as my new idea. I stewed about it for a day or two, then thought, What the hell! changed the ending completely (with a new killed), went back to the beginning of the book to make it all work, handed it in to my editor, and received not a peep about how the book was very different than what I had submitted at contract time.

Goes to show you…