Plotting the Plot

No, I haven’t been kidnapped by the Nefarious Google Beast. I’ve been on vacation—a writer’s vacation, of sorts. I spent the last seven days attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

The past five days I participated in Plotting the Plot with instructor Kelly Dwyer. During the week I learned many things, like the fact that the rooms in Shaeffer Hall were numbered by a lunatic and that the building’s air conditioning system was installed by sadists. I also learned that I really ought to finish Infinite Jest and that I need to watch Magnolia.

plot outlineBut about plot—and plotting it—what I got from the workshop was a toolkit of strategies to take away and the pleasure of partaking in the creative process with a talented group of writers.

Instructor Kelly Dwyer got us rolling up our sleeves right away. In a past life, Kelly must have been an army general leading a disparate band of soldiers to victory. She kept us on-time and on-task, kept morale high and maximized the potential of our time both together and apart. She gave us exercises that challenged us and pushed everyone to the next step, regardless of where we were at in the process.

Workshopping was the best: hearing everyone’s feedback and watching as each person’s concept got stronger, how the stories took shape. It was a veritable potluck of plot twists and thought-provoking ideas. Everyone had an opportunity to present their stories and as the week passed, present their revisions and an expanded plot outline.

I think everyone left with feedback to ponder and a more cohesive plot. However, I feel like I hit the jackpot. I left with a compelling concept that I’m totally smitten with. I have an iffy last paragraph, a tentative first page and a synopsis-ready plot outline which has been vetted by some gifted writers who were generous enough to share their wisdom and keen insight with me. My new-found friends saved me countless missteps and offered tantalizing possibilities to enrich my story.

So, will my fellow plotters and I banish self-doubt, slay inertia, and build our novels upon the holy grail of the well-constructed plot outline? Just keep turning the pages I guess.

What about you, have you ever workshopped a plot idea? What kind of strategies have you found useful and creating a solid plot that satisfies? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

11 Comments

  1. Workshops can be so inspiring! Next Week, I’m attending the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference in Hyannia, and in November, CrimeBake in Dedham, MA. Looking forward to the seminars, workshops, and meet-the-agents in both!

    1. CrimeBake sounds like a blast–although it might be dangerous with all those creative minds cooking up crimes.

  2. I tend to write such short pieces that I can hold the entire plot in my head at once. Now that I’m trying my hand at some longer projects, I think I’ll be having some adventures with a plot outline. I find it very satisfying to marry my creative brain with my analytical brain. Poetic investigation meets plot points. Gotta love it.

    1. I never thought of it like that. It is indeed merging the creative with the analytical. Good luck plotting the plot in your project!

  3. I initially mapped out my plot in a set of acts with an overall arc that resembles the chart you shared, but the process of point A to point B without giant improbable gaps seems to develop as I work on my outline. Having a general idea of the structure and general arc is helpful, but I am finding the real payoff in the outline. It serves both to spur me on and and give me tangible targets at which to aim.

    1. I agree, since I posted this I’ve worked on the plot outline and had the same result. Outlining has proven a huge help in developing the story.

  4. That class was on my short list, but I managed to nail down my plot anyway, without having a Schaeffer Hall-induced heat stroke (actually, it was quite comfortable in June.)

    1. That was the drawback, Shaeffer Hall was offering heat stroke and frostbite in July, on an alternating basis. Good for you for nailing down your plot!

  5. Sounds like you really benefited from the experience. I’ve wanted to attend workshops and conferences but haven’t been able to make it work within my challenging budget. So, I signed up to take a writing class at the local Adult School. Hoping I’ll get something from it.

  6. I’m suffering from similar budget challenges myself these days. Hope you enjoy your writing class!

  7. […] making. I got the original idea while attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, where the amazing Kelly Dwyer encouraged participants to plot a novel in this week-long workshop. My snarky ADHD narrator proved […]

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