August 13, 2015

my life as a plotter

Here's the cast list, 10-scene tool, and working synopsis
aka outline I used while writing the first draft
of what became Hard Hats and Doormats.

One of the most frequent questions authors receive is "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" Though I primarily fall under the plotter category, I've tried my hand at pantsing. I can't show you any examples of that, because none of those stories have been finished. I guess that means I'm truly a plotter at heart.

There are a few tools I use to plan and plot my novels/novellas/shorts before I officially begin the writing process. Here's a rundown of what I do before I write:

Character Sketches
This is a good opportunity to get to know my characters. I write down everything from what they look like to their major ticks to the way they drink their coffee--or if they drink it at all. I also write a brief history, which is usually a free-form essay of sorts that explains why this person is the way they are. For The Marrying Type, I wrote about how difficult it was for Elliot to lose her mother to cancer when she was in high school. I wrote about her strained relationships with her father and sister. I wrote about what it was like to begin dating Eric and then to breakup with him. Having this background and knowledge was important to have before I wrote, because it showed why she acted the way she did in certain scenes. And some of it actually ended up being included in the story. I sometimes also include aspects of a character that don't make it into the story, but they're still important because they help me better know who I'm writing about.

Cast List
From this, I create a brief cast list that has a rundown of each of the characters in the story along with a one- or two-sentence explanation of his or her role to the story. Often it explains the relationship a supporting character has with the main character. This is a quick reference for me to pull up while I'm writing, because sometimes all of the names can get confusing.

Before & After
I've blogged about this before (you can read about it here), but basically what I do is imagine where my primary characters are in their lives when the story begins. I write this down in one column, and in the next I write where I would like them to be after the story. So, without getting too spoilery, in "Oh Baby," the Autumn and Tuck follow-up featured in A Kind of Mad Courage, I knew Autumn would be super pregnant at the beginning, and she'd have a baby in the end. Somehow, during this story, I'd have to show that happening. Getting her from Point A to Z is the story and my plot.

Ten-Scene Tool
This is another resource I've blogged about (read about it here), but basically this is an opportunity for me to do a quick outline tracking the major conflict(s) or a story and how it will unfold and how it will be resolved.

Now that I use Scrivener, most of this happens in each project rather than on a sheet of paper, but this is where I write the A-Z of what will happen. I give a slug to each of the scenes--usually something that will stand out to me as a reminder of what that scene involved. Here's a picture of what this looked like when I was just starting the Christmas novella I'm wrapping up this week:

I should note, several of these scenes have been eliminated
or renamed as the story evolved during the writing process.

Then, in the notes section of each individual document, I'll write a few sentences about what needs to happen to the characters in this scene to move the story forward. For example, in The Marrying Type, during the first scene my notes would have read something like, "Elliot is searching through the family business's financial records in preparation for a meeting when she receives a call from her cousin. Marissa is filming a reality TV series about wedding planners and she wants Elliot to be on board. Elliot founds the idea repulsive, but politely declines. During the call, she uncovers the badly stored company records and realizes they are about to lose the business to the bank. Desperate to save the company, she agrees to do the series as long as the price is right." Now, that scene is a little more descriptive than some of my outline notes. It could be as simple as, "Elliot and Eric meet to talk wedding plans, and both feel a lot of the old emotions resurface and neither knows what to do about it. Elliot's instinct is to push them behind and be kind. Eric's is to also repress them, but also use them as an opportunity to keep her at a distance."

I keep my outlines flexible during the writing process. Sometimes scenes move around, or sometimes they go away. Sometimes new ones come up as I write and realize the story needs something more. But I find I need to have this sketch of a roadmap to begin, otherwise I'm unable to navigate the trip from the first scene to the last.

So here's the question to you, fellow writers: What sort of pre-writing resources do you use to prepare for your story?

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