For today’s post, I’m going to do a jumble of various ideas about plotting. As you probably know by now, I do not usually plot a whole story or novel out ahead of time. I come up with an idea, start writing, and plot as I go. This generally works well, but sometimes even I get stuck.
Those who plot ahead swear by it. At a conference I attended, one famous writer told about his advance plotting, using index cards, and never, ever beginning to write until the whole story is tightly laid out. I listened to him wide-eyed, wondering how much he enjoyed writing the actual story after all that. He writes suspense, so I can see the advantage. Plotting out a mystery with clues and suspects can be useful. Another writer I know used to be a “panster”—doing what I do by coming up with an idea, then just winging it. She is now an avid plotter. Go figure.
There are many books and articles out there about advance plotting. Since I don’t do it, I don’t have any real advice about doing it. (I know, big surprise there.)
If, like me, you’d rather be a panster, here is my jumble of thoughts about how to save a manuscript when you get stuck.
- Make notes as you go, even for a short story. List your characters, their ages, description, occupation, and anything else you think is important when you first put them into the story. I do this by having an open document called <Title> notes.doc. Also put in place names for spelling purposes and other details such as the car someone is driving, with the year, if applicable, and all such details. If you don’t want to interrupt your flow while writing, when you’re done for the day, pick those details out and get them (by copying and pasting) into that notes file.
- If it’s a novel, when you’re done for the day, do a timeline (day of week, time of day) and a short description of each day’s work. If you get interrupted in the middle of writing the novel, this will be very useful to get you back on track. Also, there’s not much of anything harder to do than fix a bolloxed-up timeline after the novel is written.
- Be aware as you write about setting each scene, having conflict in the scene, and ending with a small cliffhanger. Read your favorite author of mystery and suspense and see how this works.
- If you get stuck, simply throw something interesting into the mix. Or ask yourself what if? Or what could possibly happen next? List ideas, then pick the most surprising, weirdest or interesting one and go with it.
- Trust yourself. Let your subconscious take over. You know, that part of you that has strange dreams. The only time I try to force anything is when I’m stuck. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen to me very often. I believe that’s because I trust my subconscious to come up with something.
- If all else fails, do what is called an overlay outline of someone else’s book. Take a novel you think is one of the best or the best you have ever read. Put down how it starts (probably not with someone alone, getting up in the morning, unless a bomb has gone off). What about the first few paragraphs draws you in? Write it down. Next put down the inciting incident. What page did that happen on? Outline the whole book or story, scene by scene. Then use that framework for your work. This is particularly useful if you’re a beginning writer. And even more useful if you do it with several books/stories. Then try it with one you didn’t like very much. Can you see differences and patterns? I bet you will.
So, those are my tips for the day. Good luck. Anyone have other tricks to get themselves going when they’re stuck?