Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bridge Too Short

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Hmm. I wonder what it's like to plot a book"?


Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. For some people it's easy - some people find spinning plots the easiest part of writing. But for people like me, it's really hard. In fact, it sucks. I bitch to the other Naughty 8 about this all the time - and they're tired of hearing it, which is why I'm now griping to you.

See, I find it easy to invent characters - their backgrounds, personalities, motivations, sticky emotional wickets. And I find it easy to write dialog. I can invent people and make them talk. I just have trouble thinking of stuff for them to do.

As I was starting to try to plot this new steampunk I'm working on -- I can't go whimpering to my sister-in-law for help, because she'll say I should be working on Seth's novella instead -- I finally thought of the perfect (at least to me) analogy for building a plot:

It's a bridge across a chasm. You stand on this side, with the beginning of your story. Way over on the other side is the end of your story. The plot is the bridge going from here to there.

Now, writers can be broadly divided into two camps: pantsers and plotters.

Pantsers, of course, are writers who write by the seat of their pants. A pantser doesn't know what she's going to write until she picks up a pen or sits down at the keyboard. In other words, a pantser will walk up to the edge of the chasm and go - "Hey, look. There should be a bridge here." And then she'll start building the bridge -- and she'll walk across it as she builds it, one board at a time. She's constantly working at the edge of the abyss, and it doesn't bother her at all.

I'm not a pantser; I'm a plotter. A plotter stands on solid ground, looks out over the chasm, and gets queasy. So she backs up a few steps and says "Nope. I need to build part of a bridge before I look at that again."

So she'll bang together the beginning of the plot, at least enough so that she can throw a few boards across the chasm. She may not build the whole bridge beforehand -- i.e., she may not plot the whole thing from beginning to end before she actually starts writing -- but she won't walk out there one board at a time.

Sometimes, though, plotting is just an excuse to procrastinate - and when it comes to procrastinating, I don't really need excuses. I'm already more than a little ADD, and I'll use any excuse not to sit down and actually write. So I've adopted one of the Diva's techniques for dealing with the ADD, which involves taking the task in little bitty bits. If I break a plot, or a partial plot, into scene-sized sections, and concentrate on writing one scene at a time, I can actually get it done.

Some people use index cards - I use large lined Post-It notes, and then - no lie - I stick them into the pages of a magazine. I use a magazine to be cheap and recycle, and because it's compact and I can fold the whole thing up and carry it with me. Each Post-It contains the notes for one scene. I don't have to write them in order, but I lay them out in the magazine's pages in order. Then I can flip through, pick a Post-It and write that scene. When I've written the scene, I rip the Post-It out.

Here's part of Seth's plot:

Now. About that steampunk...

First scene: Hero in his Galveston casino. Heroine emerges from her cottage. They flirt and chat and observe the glow from the Indian campfires across San Luis Pass. He goes back into his casino.

Second scene: Her pet street urchin joins her on the pier. They chat. She goes back into her cottage.

Third scene: The alcalde drops by the casino -- which isn't unusual, except that he's accompanied by [what were municipal law enforcement officers called in Spain's New World cities?] Hero asks the alcalde the reason for his visit. Alcalde replies that someone thought they might have seen a submarine surfacing beneath the [name of the casino?] the previous night. Hero laughs. The smugglers' submarine comes in on Sundays, as the alcalde knows, and it surfaces on [calle rompeolas/seawall boulevard], two blocks down the street from the alcadià . If there have been any submarines prowling the West End of Galveston, the hero doesn't know anything about it.

Fourth scene: ?????

Somebody pass me a board.


Kelly Jamieson said...

Beautiful analogy Kinsey!! I think there are also some people who build the whole framework of the bridge before they start across. I'm not one of them!! Love the magazine and post it idea BTW!

Erin Nicholas said...

Love the analogy too! Strange that with my fear of heights I'm a pantser huh? I'm thinking the chasm might be wide but mine are shallow *G* Might steal the magazine idea btw.

PG Forte said...

Kelly--yeah, there are people who build the whole framework first. lol I would know.

Great post, Kinsey.