Friday, July 23, 2010

Plotting the...Plot

There are many different ways to map out your novel. I encourage all to try a few different methods before jumping into your story. I've tried a few (outlined below), and I'll end today's post with what worked for me.

The "Pantser" Method - This is the seat-of-your-pants way of developing your story. You start with a blank piece of paper and 85,000 words later you've got a novel. I actually started my book this way. It was off the rails by word 4,000. Scratch that.

The Outline Method - A strict, mapping of your plot. Looks a bit like the old outlines we'd have to do in school for assigned papers and reports. I tried this. I really did. But then I remembered back in school I used to develop the outline after I wrote the paper. I found this way too restricting and didn't allow for any inspiration at all. I got half way through my outline before I said, "This is stupid."

The Snowflake Method - I won't write out the entire step-by-step. Dr. Randy Ingermanson summarized it perfectly HERE. The basics: You start with one sentence that describes your book, expand to a paragraph, develop the characters etc etc. This just didn't work for me. Once again, I felt too constrained.

I needed to find something, though. I had a pretty complex book in my head trying to get out. I could see various scenes playing out almost like a movie. Was there anything that would allow me to take my scenes, and expand them into a plot-driven tale while allowing me the freedom to develop independent ideas as they came to me?

The answer, of course, was yes. it just took me a while to find it. And that's pretty ironic, because one of my favorite fantasy authors had it smack in the middle of his blog.

Jim Butcher has written a few really neat stories. He wrote the Codex Alera six-book fantasy series as well as the continuing saga of "The only Wizard in the Phone Book" aka Harry Dresden of the wonderfully fun Dresden Files. If you haven't read any of Jim's books, go the the links above or your local library and read them. I'll wait.

Anyway, he had a post on his blog from 2008 that was pure gold for me. Read it HERE. I won't even try to do it justice...but let's just say I used Jim's ideas (henceforth called "The Butcher Method") and built The Prodigal's Foole.

"The Butcher Method" had enough structure to keep me honest, but allowed for a great deal of improvisational writing. I did, however "Make a few modifications myself (thank you Han)."

But for the most part, I followed "The Butcher Method." How did it work?

I knocked out the first thirteen Chapters of TPF in twenty two days.

Makes me feel a little stupid buying all those "Write your Novel Like Charles Dickens!" books when all I needed was sitting on one of my favorite author's blog.

The bottom line: Write how you want. See what the authors you love do, and how they do it.

Then follow your muse.


Leah Petersen said...

Hey, check this out. This post was exactly what I needed to read right now. Perfect. Look at you, you said something wise.

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