20 January 2008

Blog Review -- Plotter versus Pantser

In a recent blog review, Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers scored a 9 out of a possible ten.
Comments: Good blog, solid advice (even if I don't agree with it all) - a useful resource for any writer.

When I asked the reviewer what he didn't agree with, he replied: "I just tend to avoid plotting. For me, personally, it seems to take some of the life out of the story. I write rough, let the story appear, and then polish it out the way it asks."

Plotters versus pantsers ("writing by the seat of your pants").

Is plot something you do -- a verb? Or, is plot an intergral part of a story, like dialog and authentic details -- a noun?

Pantsers work the story out on the page.

Plotters outline first and then write.

Either method, it seems to me, benefits from a firm understanding of the universal story form. And, the universal story form is directly related to plot. Therefore.......

Oh, well, the battle continues. I've received comments like this since I first started teaching and writing and obsessing about plot. Neither way is right or wrong.

Whatever it takes to get writers to put words on a page. That, to me, is all that counts.

P.S. For anyone who is interested in a "pantser" turned "plotter", please read my interview with Jana McBurney-Lin, author of My Half of the Sky at http://www.blockbusterplots.com/tips.html. Enjoy.......

14 January 2008

Drowning in Meaning

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a plot coach for writers is learning about other writers' writing process.

Usually, I find that writers have a preference for communicating their projects through one plotline initially over the other three plotlines --- character emotional development, dramatic action, and thematic significance.

Most writers divide into one of two groups -- developing characters versus developing action. However, every so often I find a writer who approaches a story through the thematic significance or deeper meaning of the piece. Recently, I worked with a writer who not only excelled in thematic significance, she was drowning in it.

Sara, I'll call her, is a memoirist. Throughout the plot phone consultation, Sara’s fears of not being able to do what she had set out to do constantly interrupted the flow. Her self-doubts about her abilities and worthiness were doing to her what they do to all of us -- stall, cripple, and damage the writing process more than any lack in actual writing abilities.

To protect herself from her fears, Sara stayed in her head. She seemed incapable of bringing the story down into her body. As difficult as it was to get her to consider the dramatic action needed in her story, she was oblivious to developing the characters. Sara had spent years intellectualizing her memoir. She had never written a word.

Sara had strong beliefs she was determined to bring forward, points to prove, judgments to render. When given the chance to stay in the intellectual, Sara's voice grew strident. I sensed she had to force herself to bite back true anger. Yet, her bitterness was the very emotion preventing her from actually ever writing her story. To get around her anger about the unfairness of the establishment, I kept asking her to consider the protagonist's (her) transformation and what actions got her there.

We finished the consultation after more than three hours with a good plot planner in place. However, I worry about whether or not she’ll ever get beyond her self-doubts and anger to actually get out of her head and write the story. I hope so. The story has merit. We’ll see….

*FYI: For a technique to determine what parts of your life to include and which to cut in your memoir, go to http://www.blockbusterplots.com and click on Memoir Writers.)

**FYI: Sure, lots of natural-born storytellers excel at all three approaches to writing at once. But, for the rest of us, a firm understanding of our strengths and weaknesses can help us achieve balance in creating our stories.

I have a test for writers to determine whether they are a character-driven writer versus a dramatic action-driven writer on http://www.blockbusterplots.com/test.html


Ask yourself if you prefer to develop the character and break down at coming up with conflict, tension, and suspenseful dramatic action? Or, are you great at creating breakneck excitement on the page, but come up short when it comes to character?


Do you live through your mind and like to intellectualize about life? You could be best at developing thematic significance.
Are you active and live through movement and your body? You could be best at developing dramatic action.
Are you spiritually driven -- this does not mean religious, but spiritual? You could be best at character emotional development.

07 January 2008

Subject: Help!!

I have purchased and read your book "Blockbuster plots pure and simple" and I still don't understand. I'm starting with a basic logline for a plot and don't know how you come up with scenes if you don't even know what the story is about. It would seem to me that in order to create scenes or follow the plot planner portion of the book you need to know more about how the story is going to unfold than you know when you just get the idea. It feels like there is a step missing between the initial idea and being able to come up with scenes.

What am I missing?? Please help!

Dear Muriel,
Often, with a firm understanding of the Universal Story form and the natural trajectory of a story, writers can better come up with scenes needed to create a story.

If character most intriques you, start with the character emotional development profile (info can be found in BBP, on the website, and in entries below).

If dramatic action ideas bubble forth, start with the action.

Study the three biggest scenes in a story: The End of the Beginning, The Crisis, and the Climax (in the second half of BBP -- Plot Planner portion of the book -- also, the blog has info on these three critical scenes below).

See if you can visualize any of those scenes in your story.

How do you get your character from the beginning to the End of the Beginning?
What events are you interested in exploring, writing?
Do you plan to use any true historical events?
How can those events work into creating one of the three major plot lines (examples are in the book and below)


Start with whatever you've got. Write that in scene. Then ask yourself: because that happens, what happens next.... Write that scene. Then ask yourself again -- if that happens, what happens next?

Hope this helps.

I'll put the word out for other writers to give their ideas as well.

Great good luck.