Author Topic: Plotters how do YOU go from idea to complete plot?(My shambolic method included)  (Read 1867 times)  

Offline Nikki Pink

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 88
    • View Profile
This is a question for those who outline before they write. I outline because I've found it the most effective way for me to actually write. When I try to 'pants' it I end up doing way too much staring at the computer screen / out the window / at forums... and I've never finished anything I started that way.

So I'm curious about how other outliners go from initial idea to fully developed outline. Like every writer, I have dozens and dozens of ideas of 1 sentence to a couple of paragraphs filed away. But that's a LONG way from a full outline. Those things are scenes, or twists, or endings, or beginnings, or themes or sometimes (rarely for me) characters.

Getting from that initial pseudo-vignette to a fully developed plot is where I struggle.

Here's my current process, which still has too much "down time" for my liking.

(1) The 'idea'. I have stacks of these. But generally one is 'calling', so that's what I start with. I select one from the stack and stick it at the forefront of my mind.

(2) Come up with 1 or 2 characters. I have a loose idea - maybe a finale, a twist, or a beginning, and I need a couple of people to have it happen to. This often comes together with 1.

(3) Some 'events'. I wouldn't go as far as to call them scenes or Acts or chapters or whatever yet -- some of them may be several scenes, some may be a subplot,  others may be half a scene. But they're the initial ideas that kind of float in that seem like they might be 'cool' and fit in with (1)

Stages 1-3 might happen together during a morning walk frequently interrupted  by me typing rapid notes into my smart phone so I don't forget any of my genius ideas. This is the eeeeeeasy bit.

(4) Spend weeks and weeks not getting anywhere. During this stage I'll occasionally do something like print out a beat sheet, or a list of Acts, or Dan Wells 7-point-story-structure sheet and try to fill it in. And feel almost embarrassed at the weakness of my ideas.

This is the stage I get really 'stuck'

I spend these few weeks in a state of mild stress, anxiety and guilt for not being productive. I like to pretend I'm far busier in my day job than I really am to excuse my lack of productivity.

Occasionally another plot point or scene will pop into my head, but I'm generally pretty unproductive at this stage.

I guess I simply don't know what to do. I find it hard to just sit down and 'plot'.

(5) Several weeks later, something magic happens. Somehow (I wish I knew how) the plot kind of coalesces. Then boom. I can make my 'proper' outline with all the scenes, plots and subplots. When I actually write more ideas will appear and be incorporated, but I basically have it down now.

(6) Now I have my plan I simply make a schedule and write. This stage is just mind over.. well... mind. This is the no excuses stage. I know what I 'have' to write, so it's just a question of making myself use the time I have available to actually... you know... write. This is where the "1,000 words a day" type stuff comes in - though I'm usually close to a deadline by now so it's more like 8,000 words a day haha.

So, that's how I plot and write. How do the rest of you plotters deal with my "step 4" ? Do I need to lock myself in a room with index cards or something? How do you go from your awesome idea to developed plot?
« Last Edit: June 13, 2014, 07:01:26 AM by Nikki Pink »

Online EB

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2408
  • Gender: Female
  • used to care
    • View Profile
    • EB on Amazon
Re: Plotters how do YOU go from idea to plot?
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2014, 07:04:11 AM »
- Summary of the idea, usually about a page in length.
- Break the summary down into sections and give more detail of what should happen in each section.
- Break the sections down into chapters, so I know exactly what I will have in each chapter.
- Start writing.

I have my "notes" doc and my "manuscript" doc up side by side on the screen when I write. As details or scenes pop into my head, I go into my "notes" doc and add them in where I need them. The general outline stays the same, but the chapters end up growing and including what I need to make it work. That's my madness, anyway. ;)

Online R M Nicholls

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 91
    • View Profile
I write the set up for the beginning, the set up for the ending on two separate cards and put them at opposite ends of our very long kitchen/living room.  I write any other ideas for scenes I've had onto cards too and drop them into the line and move them around.  Scrawl other ideas for scenes as I look at it.  Then I 'walk' the plot from end to end.  I try to visualise it as if I were riding a rollercoaster - the build, the build and the ARGH! drop! etc.  If anyone comes around to visit at this point then my home looks like one of those 'lair of a psycho serial killer' rooms from the movies. 
R M Nicholls | blog | facebook | newsletter

Offline Magda Alexander

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 414
  • Maryland
    • View Profile
    • Magda Alexander
I use Scrivener to write, so I create a project and start plotting on their notecards. A freestyle kind of a thing. I usually know where the story begins and ends so those two are easy. Then I start to throw scenes as they pop into my head. I keep doing that until a loose plot emerges. And then I rearrange the cards on Scrivener into a more coherent plot structure, compile them as a word document and read it to make sure all the plot points are there. It usually needs some tweaking, but the basic plot hangs pretty well. Then it's just a matter of breaking it down into scenes and to start writing. Having said that, things do change once I start to write. But the general overall structure usually works.


Magda Alexander | Facebook | Website

Offline Nikki Pink

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 88
    • View Profile
- Summary of the idea, usually about a page in length.
- Break the summary down into sections and give more detail of what should happen in each section.
- Break the sections down into chapters, so I know exactly what I will have in each chapter.
- Start writing.

I have my "notes" doc and my "manuscript" doc up side by side on the screen when I write. As details or scenes pop into my head, I go into my "notes" doc and add them in where I need them. The general outline stays the same, but the chapters end up growing and including what I need to make it work. That's my madness, anyway. ;)

Sounds good. Kinda like th Snowflake method but without quite so many steps =)
I think I'll try this next =)

Offline Nikki Pink

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 88
    • View Profile
I write the set up for the beginning, the set up for the ending on two separate cards and put them at opposite ends of our very long kitchen/living room.  I write any other ideas for scenes I've had onto cards too and drop them into the line and move them around.  Scrawl other ideas for scenes as I look at it.  Then I 'walk' the plot from end to end.  I try to visualise it as if I were riding a rollercoaster - the build, the build and the ARGH! drop! etc.  If anyone comes around to visit at this point then my home looks like one of those 'lair of a psycho serial killer' rooms from the movies. 


I want to do this in my office at work, but people keep coming in and I don't want to tell them what I'm up to haha. My book projects are top secret information.
Summer vacation starts next week though, so maybe I can just turn the lights off and pretend I'm not there in the case of getting unwanted visitors knocking at the door.
There's no way the cats would allow this at home. Nuh-uh. Cards on the floor in seconds.

Offline Deke

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1294
    • View Profile
I like structure. Typically the IDEA is a cool situation (hero, setting, predicament).  So I know Act One has to get the hero into that situation.  Then I explore that situation and mine it for all the entertainment I can.  Typically these situations have the hero reacting, but by the middle of the story the hero needs to pro act or he looks like a sap.  So then we spend some time with him proactively trying to get out of the mess he's in. This results in push-back by the antagonist and comes to a head in the climax.

I think some writers often start with a setting or a character and not a situation and that leads to problems.


Dale Kutzera | Website

Offline Nicholas Andrews

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 933
  • Gender: Male
  • Dayton, OH
  • authornicholasandrews.com
    • View Profile
    • My Website
My outlines are rarely finished, usually because I get tired of summarizing and just start writing. I usually know what the end is going to be, anyway. It's the middle that gives me trouble. I've always used the method of outlining I was taught in middle school, which looks like:

A. Setting
  1. Time
  2. Place

B. Characters
  1. Main Character
  2. Main Character

C. Plot

And so on. For plot, the subheadings used to be a mere list of events. Later on, to cut down on subheadings I would divide it into the five points of dramatic structure (exposition/introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution/denouement). But since I'm not likely to forget these points or their functions after twenty years, these days I simply divide the story into Act I, II, and III.

I don't decide what event goes into what chapter at this point. That comes out of the actual writing. I use my instincts on where a chapter break should occur, whether it's on a cliffhanger, or important information being revealed, or a decision being made. Most times it's a subconscious thing for me.
   
The Whims of War (The Law of Eight - Book 4): 3%

Nicholas Andrews | Website | Facebook | Twitter

Offline alawston

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2751
  • Gender: Male
  • London
  • London-based writer and actor
    • View Profile
    • Andrew K Lawston's intermittent blogular adventures
By the time I get my pen and a notebook out, I've worked out enough of the plot to write at least two thirds of the story. By that point I've attained the critical mass to just power through the rest from sheer momentum and bloody-mindedness. Then I go back and try and make some sort of sense of the whole sorry mess.

And then I submit it to anthologies and pretend to be a quirky genius so that other people make sense of it all for me.

I feel I may have said too much.


Broadly comic writer working across as many genres as he can. Acting done.
Andrew Lawston | Facebook | Twitter

Offline writejenwrite

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 136
    • View Profile
    • jenniferibarra.com
I do a general brain dump first, just to get all the ideas I have down. Then I try to come up with my one-sentence premise statement so I've got the core of my story nailed down (which can change as the story evolves, but this is my starting point). From the premise statement, I start to think of my major turning points: what happens at the quarter mark (roughly) that changes my protag's life forever such that she can't turn back and keep living life as is? What happens at the midpoint that changes the game again? And then what happens at the three-quarters mark that changes circumstances again? What's her ultimate rock bottom moment? And then what's the big battle or climax?

Those turning points become my tent poles and I then start fleshing out the in-between parts, usually on index cards. I generally have a few key scenes I've already got in my head, so I get those down first and decide which section of the story they belong in, according to where my protagonist will be in her character arc. After that, it's more fleshing out and brainstorming to think of what else needs to happen to get from A to B to C, etc.

I like to have as many of the scenes fairly clear in my head before I start the actual writing, because I find that if I know what each scene is supposed to accomplish and what happens in it, the writing part is infinitely easier, and the words just flow out on their own. The times when I'm blocked usually come when I've got a placeholder scene and I haven't thought through yet what it's supposed to do or be about, but I just know something needs to happen there for pacing or for development purposes.

That's a long way of saying that my outlining method happens in stages, and I'm a big fan of index card outlining :).

 
Jennifer Ibarra | author website | facebook | twitter | goodreads | tumblr | email list

Offline A Tiger

  • Status: Madeleine L'Engle
  • **
  • Posts: 87
    • View Profile
Many people swear by hiking/walking/being outside. There has been several studies that show that walking increases creativity. Why not try that for your "stuck" phase? Most Eureka moments of famous people happened when they were relaxed...  ;D

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/walking-vs-sitting-042414.html

Offline Silly Writer

  • Status: Arthur C Clarke
  • *****
  • Posts: 2115
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
"(4) Spend weeks and weeks not getting anywhere. During this stage I'll occasionally do something like print out a beat sheet, or a list of Acts, or Dan Wells 7-point-story-structure sheet and try to fill it in. And feel almost embarrassed at the weakness of my ideas.

This is the stage I get really 'stuck'

I spend these few weeks in a state of mild stress, anxiety and guilt for not being productive. I like to pretend I'm far busier in my day job than I really am to excuse my lack of productivity.

Occasionally another plot point or scene will pop into my head, but I'm generally pretty unproductive at this stage.

I guess I simply don't know what to do. I find it hard to just sit down and 'plot'.

(5) Several weeks later, something magic happens. Somehow (I wish I knew how) the plot kind of coalesces. Then boom. I can make my 'proper' outline with all the scenes, plots and subplots. When I actually write more ideas will appear and be incorporated, but I basically have it down now.

(6) Now I have my plan I simply make a schedule and write. This stage is just mind over.. well... mind. This is the no excuses stage. I know what I 'have' to write, so it's just a question of making myself use the time I have available to actually... you know... write. This is where the "1,000 words a day" type stuff comes in - though I'm usually close to a deadline by now so it's more like 8,000 words a day haha."

^^^ Thank you for making me feel normal! This is EXACTLY what happens to me!
When I get to Step 5 (the Magic), then I start scribbling on index cards and I can see the finish line. Meanwhile...before step 4 and 5, I switch gears to another story. It seems to cause the characters of my main WIP some envy and they start plotting for me.

Offline WasAnn

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 923
  • Gender: Female
  • I is me.
    • View Profile
To an observer, I'm a pantser. Total and complete Pantser.

But that's not quite true.

Instead, I'm an ellipticaller (Is that a word? If not, it should be.)

I get an idea and then I elliptical a great deal, building the story as I do, rearranging it, tearing bits out and putting bits in, building characters and all of that. I logged 22 hours on the elliptical creating the story for Strikers over a short period of time.

Then it took me the time to write it. But I don't use notecards or whatever. I build it entirely in my head. Small details like exactly what everyone looks like and their preferences (handedness, a nervous tick, whatever) I do put in a separate scrivener page.

Whole process: 3 months for about 400 pages.

If I try to use a more written outline method, I would never get done because I'll constantly reference it and confuse myself. The only way it works for me is to absolutely memorize it and know it like you know your favorite TV show.

Offline jvin248

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 956
    • View Profile
    • J Gordon Smith - Official Author Weblog
I too tend to do a lot of pondering when pantstering a story and it really wastes time for me. I've found that I complete stories that I have plotted out as well as more creativity happens in the story because I am basically doing two passes of idea addition, the big points of the plot and then the small points within the scenes.

I use the xmind.net software to brainstorm everything from plot points to characters. My output session tends to have snippets of everything in it, from character details to lines of dialogue. Then I start a bubble for the "story" and list chapters "1-20" (there are often more, added as I write) where I can start dragging features from the main brainstorm session into the chapter buckets. When done dragging and dropping I add in more details that need to happen to keep the story moving for the inbetweens. I can see where features are working or not and make adjustments. Then I output the whole spider as a flat text "outline" that I bring into Libreoffice and start writing from the top knowing I have a complete story structure. When a section is written I delete the outline notes, like consuming the carcass until the whole story is left behind in the wake. Then on to editing!

As for how long it takes it depends ... My vampire trilogy I did the whole outline in a week for all three books. The capstone trilogy for my swords & sorcery series I have worked on in spurts over the last four months and still has a bit more complexity to add to it.

       

Offline AJMedina

  • Status: Dr. Seuss
  • *
  • Posts: 26
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • From My Mind To Yours
"(4) Spend weeks and weeks not getting anywhere. During this stage I'll occasionally do something like print out a beat sheet, or a list of Acts, or Dan Wells 7-point-story-structure sheet and try to fill it in. And feel almost embarrassed at the weakness of my ideas.

This is the stage I get really 'stuck'

I spend these few weeks in a state of mild stress, anxiety and guilt for not being productive. I like to pretend I'm far busier in my day job than I really am to excuse my lack of productivity.

Occasionally another plot point or scene will pop into my head, but I'm generally pretty unproductive at this stage.

I guess I simply don't know what to do. I find it hard to just sit down and 'plot'."
------------------------

I'm a half plotter, half pantser-- a plotantser if you will. In order for me not to waste weeks and weeks at a time, I focus my writing on one book, but during my free time (aka right before bed or right when I wake up) I brainstorm my next book. By doing it this way as soon as I'm done with one book I move on to the next one and most of the ideas are already there. I actually wrote a whole heap of short stories and guides under another pen name before I released Alora and the Knightlys. But once I was ready to sit down and write it, because of all the brainstorming, it felt like it wrote itself.

Rinse and repeat.

A.J. Medina

Offline Ceinwen

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 495
  • Gender: Female
  • Western Australia
    • View Profile
I open a fresh word doc and write bullet points of what I know happens in the story - an incident, the ending, whatever. Then I figure out why it happens, or what happens because of it and so on until it feels like I have a complete skeleton for a story. I like to think of plotting as a puzzle, I have stacks of fun working it all out.

And then I tend to go completely off course when I write because the characters really form and chime in, but I still always work out the plot first anyway.

Offline Lady Runa

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 244
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
I guess you could call me half-plotter, half-pantser. When I begin writing a book I plot the hell out of it but it's never enough. This is how I do it:

1. Idea: the initial setup and a few main characters. Then I follow Larry Brooks' structure system (the MC's journey):

2. I take a sheet of paper and divide it into four parts: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr. This is my hero's arc.

3. Then I brainstorm the story (it may take a few days or weeks) trying to come up with as many relevant and memorable scenes as I can. Normally they fall within the first two parts. I make sure that every part has its own arc and climax. I also plot out the midpoint (Big Fireworks, Great Revelations) and the third plot point (The Bad Guys Win!)

4. I come up with all the characters using Dwight Swain's character sheet (it's AWESOME). As he suggests, I make sure that my cast is as varied and contrasting as possible. I come up with all their arcs making sure they're relevant to the story. I never bother with petty stuff like "what school they went to and what music they like". This is what I love about Dwight Swain's sheet: it only includes what's really relevant.

5. If there's one thing I've learned about novel writing it's you can't overdo on drama. You can, but it's extremely difficult. So I try to make sure every scene is dramatic and memorable. Using Holly Lisle's term, I try to make every scene a "candybar scene" - something I itch to write. No fluff.

6.  Now I plan the living daylights out of the first two parts: scene by scene. I plan every scene very closely, spelling out the setting, the characters involved, the conflict and the chars' secret agendas. I also plan as many scenes of Part Three as I can - and a few of Part Four.

7. I plant my backside firmly in a chair and write Parts One and Two based on my scene sheets. Normally, as I do so, all sorts of little alterations start to pile up. New better ideas force me to change certain things, which is why I never plan rigidly after the Midpoint. Normally, by the time I reach Midpoint, I have a whole lot of new better ideas and characters that force me to change a lot of the story.

8. So after Midpoint, I sit down and plot out the rest of the book. I'll change certain things and add more dramatic and memorable scenes based on those alterations. One rule I never break comes from Larry Brook: I never introduce a new major character after Part Three.

So I guess, I'm a half-pantser because as I write the first two parts from my spreadsheet, I end up with new ideas that ultimately improve the book. I've got a few traditionally published novels now and work on the next one so it seems to be working - for me at least. I do recommend this "flexible planner" style to those who feel they can't just sit down and write a book (I can't!) but who disagree with the "rigidity" of planning.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 01:19:46 AM by Lady Runa »

Storyteller

Offline she-la-ti-da

  • Status: Edgar Allan Poe
  • *******
  • Posts: 6266
  • in the bunker
    • View Profile
Where you get "stuck" is merely your subconscious doing the work. Nothing to worry about, just something to learn how to work around.

While you're waiting for your brain, write a short story, or better still, plot another book. You could be plotting the next book while writing the current one. Or, you could just go with the flow and let your creative mind work the way it works.

I get ideas and write them down in a Word document (aptly entitled "Story Ideas" -- brilliant, huh?). Plot, characters, twist, length, genre, whatever I have. I go back and add stuff as it comes to me, or else I start a folder for that idea and keep everything there -- research, character sheets, bits of writing.

Once something starts really moving along, I would start a project in yWriter. I now use Scrivener, but it's the same process. I set up chapters with two scenes, and start writing short descriptions about what happens in each, if I know. I make up a character sheet for each character, filling in as much as I know about them. I import any research or other stuff from the folder, outlines, notes, etc. so it's all in one place.

If I have scenes that have been writing themselves in my head, I plug those in about where I think they fall in the story line:  beginning, middle, end and anywhere in between. They can always be moved. I'm okay with scrapping ideas, chapters, scenes, characters, or adding the same. Outlines do not equal rigidity, at least not to me.

Once everything is set up -- or even while I'm doing that -- I start writing. I often write out of order, because that ol' subconscious is working away behind the scenes, and sometimes wonderful ideas come along at the oddest times.

Or, I may find I have nothing to add to this project, and look around for something else. I'm trying not to get in the uncompleted projects habit (again), so I'm working more on finishing things I start. It's hard, because I've become easily distracted lately.
Queen of Procrasti Nation

Genres: speculative fiction under main pen name.




Offline zandermarks

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 461
  • Gender: Male
  • Dallas, TX
    • View Profile
    • Yardwalker Press
Semi pantser here...lots of slow work at the beginning, trying to find the initial plot problem, learning the character's motivations, settling in to the situation and the story. Rough general idea of where it all leads, but willing to let that change as the character takes the driver's seat.

Once the character is driving, I follow along for the ride. The character is thinking in near-term and reacting to situations that develop as a result of choices s/he has made or other characters have made.

In the final third, the writing slows down and the plotting becomes very deliberate as I pull all the threads together for a cohesive ending that pulls together the various plot points, emotional notes, and character developments that have occurred during the middle phase.
Zander Marks, author of:  Death Ain't But A Word: A Supernatural Hot Mess

The critics are addicted to a crackhead who sees ghosts.

Midwest Book Review: "Highly Recommended -- An enticing blend
of the paranormal and urban fiction."
San Francisco Book Review: "★★★★★ -- Hilarious and heartwarming...
Impossible to put down and impossible not to love."
Fantasy Review Barn: "★★★★★ -- The perfect example of Urban Fantasy done right."
Kirkus Reviews: "A sixth-sense thriller with a twist...a new urban-fantasy subgenre...
a thought-provoking story...An imaginative, offbeat urban-fantasy."