Monday, February 2, 2009

Does Plot Ever Get In the Way of Your Story?

I occasionally have this problem when I write. It only crops up every now and then and it kinda gets in the way of my writing. No biggee, just a small niggling thing. It's called PLOT.

Ever have that problem?

My writing genre falls somewhere between Science Fantasy and New Weird so I guess you could say it's fairly plot driven. The challenge for me is that my process for plot development has yet to fully…congeal. I almost (emphasis on almost) always have a pretty solid storyline in mind when I start, but all too often my train of thought gets derailed along the line. I realize this is a serious impediment to me having an easy time of writing and I'm considering professional counseling. Possibly electro-shock therapy.

But first I thought I'd check and see if I'm the only one who suffers from this malady. I've heard of organic writers, full of free love (for prose!) and rigid outliners with their graphs and charts and compasses, but I don't really like either of those tactics. I kinda like to fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe that's my problem.

Anybody else? Where do you fall? Does plot ever get in the way of your story?


Damyanti said...

I am usually of the free love for prose category, but lately I've discovered that plots need to be thought out a little!

Plot is my major problem right now :(

Ink said...

Lol, I think lack of plot is what gets in my way. Seriously, I don't think I've ever had a problem getting stuck in a story and not knowing where to go. I've never had a problem getting to the end, as the story is usually quite clear inside my head.

The problem, of course, is after, when I look back at the story and realize I don't really have a plot, at least a fully functioning one. This happens more than it should, really. Sometimes from lack of attention or forethought, sometimes through experiments gone awry. Usually I can fix it. Or, occasionally, just accept its weirdness for what it is.

I have this theory that fits with this... that is, that plot is the first thing we do well and think we master. You know, we think of stuff, a character going out and becoming involved in doing something. Then we realize all the other things we need to write a good story. And then once we have those we realize... this whole plot thing is harder, and more complex, than it looks, and we have to think a little deeper about that first step in the process.

In some ways, I think this plot thing is easier for novels, though that may just be because of my process. By the time I start a novel it's usually been simmering in my head a long time. I've thought through many aspects of the story, many of the connections, and I have a feel for the style I want, the structure and form and narrative dynamic. Whereas for a short story I might be swinging in the wind. "Hey, that's a neat idea... where's a piece of paper?"

Plotting is clearer when I take the time to think about it, to develop an arc and a series of events to support that arc. The whole freewriting sort of thing makes the plotting trickier, though sometimes it simply works and you nail something interesting. But you can get some tangled stuff, too.

Though even with novels there can be problems. My two current novels are opposites. TDoC had a certain set of ideas that led me through the first draft... and when I finished I realized some of those ideas simply didn't work, particularly in the first part of the story. Endless rewriting and reworking is the result. TTWoG is the opposite. I think my initial conception was just right and I nailed the basic plot, form and structure in the first draft. Could be wrong, as I'm still pretty "close" to it, but that's my feeling.

Ah, plot... you miserable, wonderful bugger. If I didn't like you so much I'd show you the back of my hand...

Ms Kitty said...

Hey, back from the frozen wilderness for a couple of seconds.

Outlining is the cure for you my friend. Play with the story before you write it, have six or twelve or however many plot points before you start.

It is the only way I've ever been able to truly finish a story.

Don't know when I'll be back, but if y'all are curious to see where you're Ms Kitty's been, check out my blog.

Otherwise, enjoy.

Ink said...

Yowzas, Ms. Kitty. Not fun... I shall send you warm thoughts and Barbados breezes. It's been a hell of a winter, though at least our power is on.

Ms Kitty said...

We had power this evening when I got home. Now for the after-storm clean up.

Ms Kitty said...

Okay, I can post a reasonable response now.

I can get tangled up in my own plot lines. As in having threads dangling like the frayed cuff on a pair of jeans. I can let a story get so messy that I can't finish it. What is pitiful about it is that a mere two plot lines can get snarled up like a wad of yarn, if I don't take the time to weave them together.

I'm not sure what a story 'arc' is. Though I like the imagery it invokes. I think of the story as a painting. Broad brush strokes for background, fine brushstrokes for the majority of the work then the fine detailing.

Layering lines of plot in an organic fashion -- just typing whatever comes to mind -- doesn't work for me. Well, it works for about 5 chapters then poof, it's done.

I've got a CD full of those.

What worked for me in my first novel was to plot it all out. The spats with the sister, the mushy moments with the hero, the scary meltdown of the villain. I put it in a time line. On this day, this happened.

It gave me a sense of pace, and purpose. I knew what I was going to write by what day of the story it was.

I know that a lot of people are put off by outlines. I wish I knew more about charting plot lines. For me having a sense of space and time in a story is as important as setting.

Think about it this way: Does my story take place in a day, a week, a month or a year? Each gives me a certain amount of time to run my plot to it's end. That determines the intensity of the emotions in this story.

I wrote a story that takes place in 15 minutes. Very intense. Another one takes place over six weeks. Also very intense, but the plot has more layers. I turned up the tension with sub-plots, since I had time to think them out and write them in.

Honestly, I've gotten to chapter five of the new novel and I'm gasping for ideas again. It's time for me to pick a year and a month, then figure out what is going on day by day.

Hopefully I'll learn more as time goes on, for now I will think of my story as a painting that is on a rigidly framed canvas. Time is the framework. What goes on the canvas is up to me.