I’ve never been a plotter in my writing. Working out long and detailed story plans, working out character motivation and building my world has never really enthralled me. I prefer to work spontaneously, writing whatever comes into my head and letting the story wander at will.
The only problem is, my stories have no plot, no meaning. Why would the characters do these things? I would never run off into danger unless I had to. They had no reason to. They had no reason to do anything. No, these stories had no plot. And that makes for a real problem with revising. How can you fix a story with no plot?
Obviously you can’t really, not without rewriting every single word of the story to make it into a plot. So, project after project ended up abandoned for lack of that all important thing: Plot.
There are two different camps in writing: those who use outlines, and those who don’t. Obviously I was one of those who didn’t. But that didn’t work for me. Time to try plan B: outlining.
Outlines scare me. How can you write down what’s going to happen in the story when you don’t know what the story is yet? When you haven’t met the characters? When you’ve only got a vague idea of where you want it to go?
So I skirted the outline, writing character profiles for my characters, working out their hopes, dreams, fears, backstory. And ideas started to flow. What if this person had done that? What if this event happened? What would cause someone to do this?
Hey, maybe I could write this outline after all. I typed the last word on my last character profile and opened a new document. Outline, I was going to beat you.
Ten minutes later, outline had won. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t decide what happened in the middle. I never knew what was going to happen until I wrote it.
Another new document, and I was thrashing my problem out on screen, writing my thoughts down as I when. What would this person do? What if this happened? Why would it happen?
Slowly but surely, a story-plan appeared on screen, mixed up in aimless ramblings. This could actually work. I returned to my outline and wrote in what I had worked out. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.
I’m full of hope for this story. My plan tells me main points, places I need to get to in the story, reasons for people to do things, but it doesn’t tell me everything. I have room to be creative, to let the story flow.
Maybe outlines are useful. I’ll love them forever if they stop my plot from disappearing.
Do you have a problem with story plots? Do you outline? Or write by feel? How much planning do you do?