Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Writing Process: Idea to Plot

As I mentioned in my previous post, today is the What's Your Writing Process Blogfest day, hosted by Shallee McArthur. Check out the link to see a stack of great posts about other writers' metaphorical tools when it comes to getting a story on the page. You just might find something that can help.

Today I wanted to talk about how an Extreme Pantster goes from getting an idea to developing it into a plot. Now, if you know anything about being a pantster, you're probably going to tell me that putting 'pantster' and 'plot' in the same sentence is a contradiction. Well yes.. this is true, to a certain degree. But let me explain.

Let's start with The Idea. Writers have various methods of coming up with The Idea. Taking inspiration from everyday life, brainstorming, their own past. None of these work for me, or at least, very rarely. To get an idea I first have to start writing it. Sounds kinda backward and counterintuitive huh? Yep, sounds that way to me too. But it's the only way that woks for my muse.

In case you're wondering what I actually mean by that, well, it is how it sounds. I sit down, no clue of what I'm going to write, and start putting words to paper (or tapping them out on the computer) and I start writing the start of my story. After a page or two I start getting an understanding of The Idea. For example (an in-class demonstration =P):
The back of Makenna's hand stung, like shards of glass jabbing into her skin. She rubbed at it, trying to ignore the pain, and the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She'd been in trouble one too many times this week, and she wasn't about to get kicked out of class again. The thing is, while she could feel it digging into her skin and bones, she knew if she looked there would be nothing there. Only her pale skin and long spidery fingers. Mr Fredrickson would accuse her of causing a commotion and send her to the principal, or worse, the school councilor. 
       So she would wait till class was out, and then hurry to the bathroom to run some cold water over the phantom wound. All the while trying to ignore the creepy stares the new kid kept giving her. It was hard not to notice the fact the pain had started when he turned up.
This is how my stories start, I had no idea what I was going to write just now (and yes I came up with this while I was writing this blog post so please forgive the crappiness) but as I wrote it the more I knew what had to come next, and what was happening to the character, and even why it was happening. The Idea is forming. (And now I actually kinda wanna write this story).

So now that we have The Idea, we need a plot (and characters, conflict, setting and all that other good stuff, but let's save that for another day). Again there are so many ways to plot a story: scene cards, story arcs, computer programs, etc, etc. They're all good ways, and they all work for someone.

My plotting method grows organically from my idea cultivating method. I keep writing. Once I've written that first paragraph, or page, or whatever it takes, I start seeing things that I want to happen in the story. Scenes I want to write. Characters I want to meet. I never have a fully fleshed out plot, but I tend to have a few scenes I know in advance which I'm really excited about. The rest comes as the idea did: by writing and discovering.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Not always, sometimes I get stuck, have a bout of writer's block (I hate writer's block). At these times I try out some of the tried and true methods of the more organised writers out there. I try to think about where my story is going. Have conversations with my characters. Ask questions. Usually I can get past the block and keep going. Sometimes... it takes awhile.

There are definitely pitfalls to being a pantster. You can be writing in a certain direction for a long time before you realise you've gone completely off course. And it can take a lot of effort (and cut words) to straighten out the story again. But I find that, for me (at least for now), this is what works. Maybe one day I'll realise that it doesn't work as well as I thought it did, and have to force myself further along Pantster-Plotter spectrum. But for now, I'm happy where I sit.

What about you, how do you come up with your Idea? How do you mould it into Plot?


  1. I think being a "panster" is exciting - - like reading the story for the first time, but you're right, it does have its pitfalls.

  2. I typically have an idea before I start, but I'm not sure where I'm going until I've written a few chapters and sometimes the plot changes half way through like on my current WIP, but that's the fun of writing. Not knowing exactly what's going to happen and thinking of a great plot twist while your writing.

  3. For some people just springing an idea up then writing it out works well. I can sometimes accomplish a short story the way you have described.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I am loving hearing how everyone's writing process works. I write the way you do sometimes, especially when I'm not sure which direction to take a story. If I can just get some things on the page, a story often begins to form.

  5. I combine pantser with organization. I can only come up with a 'frame' 1st draft and need the freedom to create the rest of the story. In revision, I get all planny. :D Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I am really enjoying reading everyone's method. I was a pantser, but now have turned into a plotter. My short stories are done via the process you described.

  7. Your way of writing is so interesting! I have to have a general idea of where I'm going with my story. I'm really enjoying reading about the different writing processes:) Thanks for sharing yours!

  8. It's been very interesting reading through some of the posts from the blogfest. You have a unique method. For me, a character comes and with them a situation. Then I start writing their story as it unfolds.

  9. I'm a total pantser too! Thanks for sharing your process.

  10. Hi,

    Pantser it is then. So far the plotters outnumber the pantsers! ;)

    A blank piece of paper might well stay blank if I tried to start a novel that way. :o


  11. Your way of writing is free-form! I play with the hook, voice and setting before I begin writing but I always know the end before I type anything else. I'm really enjoying reading about the different writing processes:)

  12. Thanks for the comments everyone!
    Sounds like a few of you have similar processes to me.

    Shallee, thanks for giving us the chance to all share our processes with each other.

    Margo, so true. I'm often on the edge of my seat when writing, because I don't know what's coming next.

    Patti, plot is so fluid when you're a pantster. Mine's taken a new direction a few times. But I still have some key scenes I want to write no matter which direction it takes.

    M Pax, I haven't done revision yet, but I imagine that's when I'll get planny too. Gotta balance out the chaos at some point.

    Elaine, yes free-form sounds like exactly the way to describe my writing process. Or lack thereof.

    Thanks everyone, I really enjoyed reading about your processes too :).

  13. Thanks for sharing your pantster process. I'm fascinated by pantsters!

  14. No worries Kari Marie. Haha yes us Pantsters are a strange species. Sometimes I wish I had more of the Plotter genetics..

  15. That's really interesting.

    It reminds me of how a few of the people in my life communicate. They don't know what they are going to say until it is actually coming out of their mouth. The act of talking is what clarifies their thoughts and lets them know how they feel about things.

    In the same way, the act of writing reveals to you what you wanted to say.

    Crazy how everyone's brains are so different! I can't imagine working like that and getting anything done. I just don't think it would work for me. Things have to mash around in my brain a bunch before getting spit out.


  16. Wow! That sounds like a very exciting process. I don't think I could be quite that organic in my writing process though. Not because I'd be scared, just because I'd be perpetually lost!


  17. That's a fun process. I kind of feel like that's how writing SHOULD be, like you're just telling the story as it "happens." Kind of hard sometimes though, right? If the dang characters don't want to cooperate that day. :)

  18. I am a pantser too, and my writing process is similar to yours :) Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  19. Sarah, that's an interesting way to put it. I guess it's lucky being a writer if something is wrong I can just delete it!

    Bookwyrme, I often am lost :). There's definitely room for improvement with my process, I just can't seem to find another one that works for me yet.

    Maggie, so true. And I definitely have a few uncooperative characters.

    Damyanti, yay someone else with a chaotic process!

    Thanks for stopping by everyone :)

  20. I write randomly sometimes too, actually a lot. It always helps! The muse in my head always knows what she's doing, she just doesn't always tell me when I start writing. :D

    Heh heh, this was so great, I have a few awards for you.http://capriciousexistence.blogspot.com/2011/01/awards.html
    Keep up the awesome work. ^__^

  21. I'm a week late, but catching up on this blogfest now after I finally put my own entry up =)

    Interesting way to discover the idea! I'm definitely more traditional, I very cheesily take my ideas from everyday life! ;-)

    Your blog is just gorgeous! Glad to have discovered it! :D