Friday, February 26, 2010

The Problem with Thinking

I'm a pantser, which is a shock to anyone who knows me. I make lists, obsessively organize, and would kill for a top-notch label maker. But for the life of me, I can't seem to plot out a story. So I usually just sit and write and the story develops on its own. It makes for far more revisions and tweaking, but it's where I've been comfortable.

And then I moved, acquiring an hour-long commute to work. The first week, I was bored out of my mind. The second week, I started going on semi-autopilot, having gotten used to the drive. It was just enough that my mind could wander unrestricted. Wander... and plot.

I've had more writing insights while driving to and from work than ever before. It's kind of incredible. Where my hour-long commute was formerly insufferable, I now almost look forward to where my plot bunnies will wander next. I've found that my writing not only flows better, but more freely, when I have a good grasp on where it's going. This is a revelation for me, because writing, while I love it, is -- was -- always such hard work, pulling just the right words while simultaneously figuring out where the story was going in the next line. Now, it's more about giving the right tone to the perfect words and less about the scene's structure.

This gets to the heart of my anti-plotting problems: I over-think everything, and then my mind freezes under the potential paths each scene could take. But when I can only keep plotting in the back of my mind, there's no way to get mired down in either the minutiae or the complexity.

Some people plot in their dreams, others need elaborate diagrams and graphs. I need... driving. What do you require? How do you give your muse free reign to inspire?


Duke_of_Earle said...

Re: your plot-block issue.

I recently read Stephen King's "On Writing." He claims he always starts with his characters, developing and establishing them in his mind to the point he pretty well knows how they will react. Then he puts them in an intriguing situation without a complete plot in mind, and lets his character(s) take the story where they take it. He claims he is often surprised where things end up.

Fascinating concept. I'm wanting to try it.

But I also do a lot of "plotting" during the daily commute.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I'm no Stephen King but I have definitely found my characters taking over the plot. They go places I wouldn't think of when I'm sitting there trying to plan the story!

My best ideas come to me in periods of insomnia - when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't sleep, or even early morning before I have to get up, laying there in the dark and quiet. My mind can wander freely wherever it wants to go. Skylar, I can see an hour drive being like that too - you get on autopilot and your mind can just go wherever you want. Good way to turn a long boring commute into something enjoyable!

Meg Benjamin said...

Okay, I'm one of the diagrammers. But I really regard the diagrams I make less as maps than as itineraries. Once I'm launched, I'll change the order of chapters or combine them, or add new ones. The diagram doesn't really rule me, but it does give me a sense of where I want to go.

Skylar Kade said...

I love to see how everyone plans out their stories! DoE, I've read "On Writing," and found it very fascinating. Actually, that's what's been happening a lot in my drives -- I'll get flashes of two characters interacting, and the plot will grow around that scene and who they are. Kelly, I soo get that, but I'm the opposite -- sometimes when I'm just about to fall asleep, and my mind starts to almost dream, I get awesome ideas. The problem is remembering them in the morning. Meg, that sounds like an awesome mix between pantsing and plotting -- I might have to use that!


PG Forte said...

I like to know where I'm going rather than just jumping in. On the other hand, the story IS the characters, so it's kind of a collaborative process.