Putting Plot Through Paces

April 21, 2014

previously on the blog…

I posted about how I write in layers. And that plot and I are only beginning to get along. This expounds on both of those ideas and so may be thoroughly boring for you (understandably) but is a great way for me to keep all my ideas and the things I’m learning about writing in an easy to reference place.

I’ll be honest, writing in layers is a bit unwieldy. There’s a great deal of freedom in it because I never force myself to write things I don’t know. But that leap from not knowing into knowing is still the toughest part of the process. Maybe for all writers and they just navigate it either by trying to plan the whole thing out or taking it at a bit of a run.

Here’s the thing – characters and ideas are pretty easy for me. Maybe that’s a pretentious thing to say but it comes from years of acting and I keep meaning to write a post about how I write like an actress. But this isn’t that post. It’s when I actually have to shape those into a plot that it gets tough (actors have scripts, which handle the plot for them). Maggie Stiefvater helped a lot with transitioning from the idea into a narrative draft with her ideas on character plotting.

So, now here I am with a narrative draft and trying to find my way through the first draft where sentences have to actually be scenes. I mean, I’ve obviously done this before in Tattered Heart but that was a long journey of a dozen drafts. I want to get better with each book (and maybe have it be a little bit easier).

Which is where Susan Dennard comes into play. I found this older post series about her writing process that’s really interesting. In part, because she talks about writing her scenes as screenplays first which is very similar to a two layer process (which means I’m not the only one who writes in layers!). And also the spice and glitter in the scene. And part of her spice and glitter process is to write two things that I think might be exceptionally helpful in moving from a narrative draft through first draft.

– Write why I want to write this story.

This, as she says, is “the spark that set your brain and heart on fire” – the thing that gets you excited about this story – the things you love about it that make all the hours of writing (and all the drafts) worth it.

– Write the things you imagine the story to be.

You should totally go check out her post and see how she does both of these things but I love how this captures sort of the essence of the story – the way you want it to feel and the things you want it to be. Funny and romantic and the moment he learns the truth and the moment she attains that breath of victory. The witty banter and the dancing scenes and the gypsies (that’s not really a story I just started rambling).

These totally seem like sub-layer things; the things I’d write out before I even have a narrative draft. But oddly, I think they fit between the narrative draft and the first. Because the narrative draft in a lot of ways is about the characters and their motivations and there’s so much getting to know the story at that stage. Then, when I know the story I’ll know what I like about it and what I imagine it becoming.

Plus, I’ve never really found writing exercises that seem to fit well with my process or are helpful. I like the structure these two pieces of writing provide. I can take those focal points into each scene. And the focus of finding that spice and glitter – that thing that makes the scene interesting – I think will make me more confident in writing the scenes. It doesn’t feel so much like taking that flying leap into knowing – it feels like putting the plot through its paces; the familiar exercises you do over and over again to build strength and discipline and skill. I’m excited to give them a try with Arizona since it’s the first story I’ve really, entirely, plotted myself. I suppose I’ll let you know how it works out.

What about you? Is this the most boring post you’ve ever read? Or are you interested in different writing processes even if it’s from a one novel, unknown, growing author?

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2 responses to “putting plot through the paces

  1. I thought this was a very interesting post! I’m not a writer – it’s way too difficult to me – and reading about this way of writing has cemented that it’s too much for me. 🙂 But it is interesting to read about the process! And I’m also interested in reading how being an actress has influenced the way you write too. This was a great, thoughtful post!

    • Annie

      thank you! I’m always afraid my writing posts will be boring so it’s great to know they’re not always. And now my post on writing like an actress has just moved up in the list of drafts, since you asked 🙂