Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Plots and plans

I've recently encountered two wonderful posts on plotting. Both came to my attention via the blog of Michael Merriam.

The first was written by Mr. Merriam himself and posted at the Musa Publishing blog. It's a humorous take on the question of how does a non-outliner, a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants author, shape a story anyway? According to this post, it's not so much a matter of engineering the plot as discovering it. A sample: "30,000 Words: Considers buying plot--cemetery plot--because the novel and characters are starting to kill me. Story still moving along, despite no plot."

The second was by Patrick Sullivan over at Words from the Herd, and it discusses the importance of knowing where the story needs to end. And not only that, how it needs to end: the stakes, the main conflict, the source of the main conflict. And how the ending relates to the beginning. Wonderful stuff. An excerpt: "If you have an end in mind at the beginning of your writing, then the beginning of the story is able to ask the question that the ending must answer. Everything in-between is designed to move the story in a dramatically satisfying way up to that pre-defined conclusion."

So, here we have two seemingly contradictory ways of looking at plot, both of which strike me as equally true and valid. How can this be? I think that, for me, some of these elements operate just below the conscious level during the first draft, and the rest of them I tackle, more consciously, during revision. I've had both experiences. I've gone typing along, not sure where I'm going but just knowing instinctively that I need to go this way; I've seen unconsciously-planted plot seeds ripen perfectly later in the book, exactly when they should. I've also deliberately manipulated manuscripts to reach the necessary level of tension or significance; to make sure the main character has the most important role; to echo the beginning in the ending (or vice versa).

It can work either way, as long as it works.

2 comments:

  1. Yes. This is exactly how it works for me ". . .some of these elements operate just below the conscious level during the first draft, and the rest of them I tackle, more consciously, during revision."

    I can't imagine unfolding a story any other way.

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    Replies
    1. I sometimes envy people who can outline every aspect of a story in detail, but I need that sense of discovery to get me through a draft.

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