Fellow Swanwick regular Val Penny shares her thoughts about how to go about that thing we call plotting…
Plotting is central to writing a novel, but it is a highly individual process. No two authors plot in the same way. Some plot organically while others plot in a very orderly fashion. Many writers even plot differently from one book to another.
Some write scenes: hundreds of scenes that interest and excite them and then they stitch the scenes together to from the novel. While others visualise the way the book will take shape using dozens of bits of paper laid out on their desk or even on the floor. It must be important to make sure the windows are closed if you plot this way! Some authors use tree diagrams, spreadsheets or mind-maps to plot and there is software available to download online for this.
However you plot your novel, the goal is the same, to allow the journey it is about take that will last several months on the road with a novel. It is important that you, as an author, choose between the ‘organic’ and ‘orderly’ methods of plotting so that you are comfortable that your choice works best for you and the book you are setting out to write.
I plotted my first novel Hunter’s Chase organically but, after attending a course run by Sue Moorcroft at last years’ Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, I plotted the sequel ‘Hunter’s Revenge’ using diagrams and spreadsheets. Neither is wrong. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and either can be successful for crafting a novel.
Writers who follow an organic way of plotting approach the outline largely as a form of awareness of the story, rather than as an actual document to be followed strictly. Many view the the outline not so much as a planning device but more of an analytical tool that helps strengthen the final draft by indicating the flaws in the story-line.
Some authors begin with an idea and just jump in to tell the story. They write steadily and regularly until they have written tens of thousands of words. Then they go through the organic draft and delete large chunks and add other pieces until the final manuscript is complete.
Other authors, like Sue Moorcroft, plot meticulously and there is no doubt that plotting an outline is hard work. However, having undertaken an outline on Hunter’s Revenge, I found myself into writing my novel with confidence. I was happy that one chapter followed another in a sensible sequence. My characters retained their identities. Of course, at the end of the first draft there were flaws, but I found I was able to repair those readily.
Whether you plot organically or in an orderly fashion, the important issue is that you can tell the story to your readers and that you, and they, are satisfied by your novel.
You can find Val Penny in any of these online locations:
On her website here;
On Twitter here.