Tag Archives: pantser

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.

Attack of the Nefarious Google Beast

googlemapI like maps, planned destinations, hotel reservations, heated pools and chocolate croissants. I like research and travel books and poring over online reviews and intimate knowledge of space and place before I get there. And yet somehow the best part of the journey is always the unplanned detour or the unexpected stop. It’s there I find the ultimate souvenir, the perfect picture or the barbecue ribs worth dying for.

When I got the idea for HitList, it wasn’t so much that I found it, as it found me. I was just merrying along, writing my Well-Planned Book (about something else entirely), when The Beast (aka HitList) came, knocked me across the teeth and took over my brain.

I was helpless to stop. I knew it derailed me, but there was something so compelling about it—I couldn’t look away. Each word made me eager for the next. I couldn’t stop writing—I had to find out what happened. And this experience showed me that while there are intentions, plans and plots, there is the thrill of riding the story and letting it take you. Amazingly, by the time The Beast left, I had a book–a better book than the one I’d planned.

So, I was not completely surprised when some innocent and well-intended research on my googlemap streetviewcurrent WIP turned into something else. The Nefarious Google Beast blindsided me and dragged me into an alley, where it threw me in the trunk of a waiting car. I was just sitting there, staring at something on Google maps and one thought led to another, which led to a sentence, and turned into a page and I’m starting to wonder if there might be a book attached.

It may only be a short story, it could be a meandering diversion down the rabbit hole and back, but right now I simply can’t wait to get to the next sentence. Oh, what next? What next? Where are you taking me, Nefarious Google Beast?

I may end up miles away next week with nothing to show for it but a short story and a tattoo I don’t remember getting, but heck…I think I’m gonna go along for the ride.