11 August 2015

No Plot. Mo' Problem.


by Melissa Yi

Do you like to plot your story, point by point?

Fantasy writer Tim Powers advocated this method at my Writers of the Future winners’ workshop. He outlines his novel meticulously, sells it on proposal, and then never gets writers’ block because he just follows the outline he already wrote.

Sounds perfect, right? Except I like to just run to the computer and type madly, before my kids wake up and/or I have to run to work. Sometimes, I have almost no idea what came out of my fingers, except it was up to 1000 words and I’m done for the day.
My kids need supervision.

It means I’m a pantser (as in “flying by the seat of”). I let my characters shoot off their mouths, and possibly other body parts. They run into and out of danger. It’s a lot of fun. My characters really do surprise me, and my subconscious brain comes up with a lot of bizarre plot twists.

So the good news is that I’m 66,000 words into my latest Hope Sze novel, Human Remains.

The bad news is that I haven’t decided on a plot.

For me, if I don’t have a good plot, I don’t have the backbone of my mystery. Even though Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith teach that character and setting are the keys of mystery, especially important in a series character, I just can’t get a handle on a book when I’m constantly spinning new plot points and antagonists. It’s CRAZY.

Usually, I end up punching a bunch of words out, throwing half of them in the garbage, then stitching the survivors into a slamming good story, but it takes me so much time and energy that I spend a year or longer writing each mystery and I’m wrung out by the end of it.

So I probably should plot more.

What about you? Do you like to write into the darkness, or craft each scene in advance?A lil’ bit o’ both? Or just check out some illustrious suggestions from Jan Grape, which I discovered after I’d already written this column….

5 comments:

janice law said...

Sad to say, if I know the whole plot, I am too bored to write the novel!
I think you have to figure out what works for you and stick with your own system.

Peter DiChellis said...

Interesting to see how different writers approach this. I write short mysteries, so am not wrestling with the scope and complexity of a novel, but I still need to know where the plot's headed. I usually run the main turning points through my head - what if this, what if that - and then make brief 'big picture' notes but not a detailed outline. This way, I don't waste time wordsmithing a dead idea yet have lots of room to improvise within the big picture.

Melissa Yi said...

@Janice, absolutely, every writer needs an individual system. Just trying to figure out what works for me now.

Melissa Yi/Yuan-Innes said...

@Peter, I think I'm moving toward your system. I like the phrase "wordsmithing a dead idea" too.

Leigh Lundin said...

Melissa, I'm a plotter but seldom an outliner. I often half-doze while running the story through my head like a movie, backspacing, reversing, fast-forwarding until it falls into place.

Clever title, by the way.