Tuesday, July 26, 2016

To plot or not to plot . . .

I admit it. I'm a plotter, not to be confused with a plodder, although I might fall under that heading (nothing to do with writing, though).

I work from a plot when writing my books. In the writing world you're either a pantser (as in, seat of the pants) or a plotter. Some people on both sides of the question argue for their method and against the other (perhaps a bit like politics).

I don't presume to speak for other writers, just myself. When I start plotting, meaning typing stuff into my Excel spreadsheet, that's not the first time I've been thinking about the book. I have already worked on it mentally starting as soon as I get the BIG idea for the book. I know the important things that are going to happen before I open Excel. I typically already know the exact ending.

Plotting is like preparing to take a road trip. You mark out the main roads you plan to take, perhaps even noting which locations you'll stop for pop or coffee and bathroom breaks, and where you'll spend the night.

Writing is like actually getting in the car with your spouse, partner, or best friend, and hitting the road. You know what needs to happen in a particular chapter because you made a small note of it, but the details are not laid out (for me anyway). That's where the creative juices take over and you write the chapter. You accomplish the goal of that chapter, but then something you hadn't planned on happened!

That's when it gets exciting. It happened to me today in my newest book, Sgt. Dunn #6. A British character named Steve Barltrop (after one of my good friends and a FIRST READER) was supposed to do one thing in chapter 22.

Here's the plot point from my Excel spreadsheet:

Barltrop waiting for C-47 to return for pickup, rising concern over missing Saunders.

As I started writing the chapter, something unexpected happened that raised the stakes for Barltrop and the men with him. It occurred to me only in the midst of writing, not plotting. This is the equivalent to your spouse, partner or best friend on the road trip nudging you in the arm and saying, "Ooh, look over there. Let's go take a look!" I also realized that the chapter was too early and I moved it from number 22 to 35.

If you are a plotter, this probably happens to you, too. I love it when it does because I know if I'm surprised, my readers will be, too.

Thanks for stopping by.