Friday, September 7, 2012
Confessions of a Pantster #writertip
Panster's still need Plot Points
Huhhh??? Hold on a minute, backtrack. Did you just use the word PLOT???
Well, yes, and let me explain. Every story needs big moments, those spine-tingling, nail-biting, will they or won't they moments. These are the plot points. They hold up a story much like the towers of a suspension bridge. They present excitement, dilemmas, points of no return, and other tests to keep the story moving and the reader engaged.
These plot points are not to be confused with the Inciting Incident or hook which occurs before the First Plot Point or the Climax or Final Battle which occurs after the Second Plot point. Rather, the First Plot Point is the end of the beginning and the Second Plot Point is the beginning of the end.
Larry Brooks has an excellent book Story Engineering, in which he not only explains Plot Points, but also those fascinating little reminders called Pinch Points. His explanations of Story Structure and how they fit with Concept, Character and Theme. He is rather down on panstsing, comparing us to people who won't take an airplane, but rather a five-day train trip. Nevertheless, he does present a workable solution. Think of only five points: Hook, First Plot Point, Mid-Point transition, Second Plot Point, Ending, then wing the rest.
So what is this Panster Doing talking Plot Points?
When I wrote my first book, I had no idea where it was going and where I was coming from. I had this story in my mind, a story of a princess with an unsatisfying life, and went exploring. I daydreamed many subplots, took off on wild tangents, and indeed changed my story quite drastically. I hesitate to count how many drafts I wrote, or how many times I subjected my critique partners to yet another plot change.
Plot change. There's that dirty word to the heart of a pantster. We are creative souls, daydreamers, unbound by charts and graphs and mathematical formulas. We write from the heart and there is no telling where the heart will turn.
Yes. That is true. But after fifty iterations of 'As the Heart Turns' a story starts to form. And what transpires is a series of climatic events, character arcs, reversals and victories. The bridge structure takes shape organically. And all of the story engineering points can be identified, in retrospect.
So How does a Pantster Plot?
Very minimally. I participated in NaNoWriMo in November 2011 and spun out a first draft. Right about that time, I saw some tweets with the hashtag #PlotWriMo and started following it. PlotWriMo is Martha Alderson's post-NaNo activity to help all of those pantsters who threw together a first draft to prepare for the first revision. Martha stresses stepping away from the first draft and thinking about the themes of and what she calls re-"visioning." She takes a more holistic approach than Brooks, and encourages you to dwell into the subconscious universal story.
You are encouraged to put away your first draft, not look at it at all, and sketch a series of mountain peaks on a large piece of butcher paper. You write plot elements above the line and character elements below the line. Then you think of your big picture thematic elements. Free association, jot down anything that comes to mind. Match them with your plot points, or what you remember your plot points were. No peeking. She also warns you against letting anyone else read your first draft. It is a fragile thread, a dream. You're also encouraged to think about your characters and sketch their emotional development on tiny postcards, a mini plot with all the points.
Take a look at her book, The Plot Whisperer for an explanation of her method. She has also recently published The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories.
A Pantster who Plots
Both of these systems are fascinating, but I must admit I did not follow it to its entirety. I dropped out of the beat sheet while trying to Story Engineer and threw out all my 3x5" mini plot lines sketched while Plot Whispering. Did I fail?
Not really. Even though I threw away my cards and diagrams and never completed my spreadsheet, doing the exercises helped me to be aware of the hidden messages inside my story. Mulling on the character emotional development also allowed me to deepen my relationship with my characters.
By the time I was set to revise, everything was once again organic, not over-engineered, yet harmonized with the universal story. So that's my confession. I hope it was entertaining or at least helpful. The next book I'm going to read about plotting is Holly Lisle's Create A Plot Clinic. If you've read it, let me know what you think.
What about you? Are you a Pure Pantster, a Pantster who Plots, a Plotter who Pants (don't get any ideas here), or a Perfect Plotter? What process do you prefer? Story Engineering or Plot Whispering?