Pat Flewelling, on alternative plotting

It’s quid pro quo time.. over a year ago I posted on Pat’s blog (here‘s a link to the blog), now she’s returning the favor.

With me writing for Camp NaNoWriMo right now, this is an appropriate post.

I’m not as prolific, but few people are!

At last count, I’ve written 59 novel-length manuscripts since 1993, and I’ve just come back from a weekend-long novel writing marathon with the better half of # 60. Some have been completely pre-planned. Some were written off the cuff. Most haven’t been published, because they just haven’t been solid enough.

When I thoroughly plotted the story in advance, one of two things would always

The Marathon

The Marathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

happen: either I would deviate wildly off course, or I would get so bored that I’d just stop writing altogether. I often mistook a tangent as some kind of award-winning plot-twist, and having to delete 10-15% of the manuscript was a real killer to my motivation. And sometimes, I was just bored, because there was no sense of discovery left over, no room to play around. I was choking my own creativity.

At the other extreme, stories that had no predestination took longer to finish. I’d often spend hours staring slightly cross-eyed at the ceiling, trying to remember where I was taking that last thought. I’d also ended up spending countless hours editing after the fact, removing tens of pages of verbal dross.

But for this year’s novel writing marathon, I decided to try something new. I planned only so much, but I also left major plot points blank.

I thought of it like a vacation itinerary. Let’s say that I knew I was leaving Montreal on a Monday at 7:00 a.m., and that I had to be in Toronto by Saturday at noon. Let’s say, furthermore, that I also wanted to visit Ottawa, Brockville, Kingston, and Oshawa, before finally heading into the Big Smoke. As long as I got to Ottawa by 4:00 p.m., I could take any route I wanted. I could take the back roads and enjoy a longer drive through the country, or I could stick to the highways and get there sooner, then park the car and stroll around on foot before leaving at 4:00. I wouldn’t decide which route to take to Ottawa until I was in the car with the radio on and a coffee in hand.

During the marathon, I discovered not only that I actually stuck to the plan, but I wrote in an unforeseen major character, who made the plot more engaging and resolved a lot of plot holes. I finally had a planner that would direct my story toward a fun and logical conclusion, but one that left plenty of opportunities to make stuff up as I went along. Most surprisingly of all, because I had a known destination and unknown roads, I found my narrative pacing became the strongest it’s ever been.

But, after this many novels, I know that what works for one project doesn’t necessarily work for another. Likewise, what works for me may not work for you. All I can suggest is that you keep experimenting until you find what works best, and have fun with it along the way.

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