Plodding Through My Plotting


I’ve posted about character recently, and I’ve written a few posts about worldbuilding.  Today I’m wrestling with plotting, so I thought I’d post about that.

I’m mostly through the worldbuilding for my new project — my shiny new toy — and I know a good deal about my lead character.  What I need now is a storyline for the first book in the series.   This project is going to be a true serial, as opposed to an extended story arc, which is the more classic fantasy structure.  I posted on this back in September at the weblog of my agent (and Faith’s agent), Lucienne Diver.  Briefly, as I wrote in my post for Lucienne:

“A true series consists of a sequence of stand-alone novels that are connected by a recurring character or world or theme.  For instance, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels are parts of a true series.  Each book stands alone as a mystery, but taken together they tell us about Harry’s life and career.  A project like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire on the other hand, is best described as an extended story arc.  It’s a multi-book sequence, but taken together it tells one story.  A project of this sort can have many narrative threads, but it is, in the end, a single tale.”

Up until now, everything I’ve published has been part of one extended story arc or another.  What I’m writing this time around is a serial.  Each book will stand alone, though some of the characters, including the main protagonist, will recur and their lives will change with each book.  (In other words, it won’t be like an episode of “The Brady Bunch,” where each episode seems to exist in a bubble without affecting what comes next.)

So how do I come up with a plot?

No, I’m really asking.  How do I come up with a plot?

Okay, I’m not really asking.  But I am struggling a bit.  I have great ambitions for the series in general and for this first book in particular.  I want to develop a mystery that ties together multiple strands of the worldbuilding and character development I’ve done thus far.  There are large political issues that need to tie in, but I also have a conflict between my protagonist and his arch rival.  And ultimately I want the central mystery of the book to be gritty and fun and interesting for my reader, even as it brings in some of the basic social conflicts in my world surrounding religion and magic and class.  As I say, I have great ambitions for the series.

As I’ve mentioned before many times, I often develop ideas and overcome problems by brainstorming at the keyboard — basically typing stream of consciousness.  I ask myself questions and answer them until I work through whatever is holding me back.  I imagine that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few days, as I try to develop the plot for this first book.  And as I brainstorm I’m sure I’ll fill out some of the remaining worldbuilding and character details that have eluded me thus far.  It’s all connected — the worldbuilding tells me more about the character; the character development gives me plotting ideas; and as the plot develops I’ll come up with other things I need to do with the world.  Round and round I go.

As “How To…” posts go, I guess this one is pretty lame.  I’m feeling my way through this part of the process.  Sometimes when I get an idea for a book or a series, the plotline is one of the first things that comes to me.  Sometimes it works differently.  This time the main character and the contours of the world have been there pretty much from the beginning, but the plot has been slower to develop.  I suppose it bears repeating:  There is no right way to do this.  Even those of us who have been doing it for a while don’t do it the same way every time.  And maybe that’s the most important thing to take away from this post.   There is no hard and fast technique to harnessing creative energy.  For me the process is always changing.  That’s the challenge.  That’s the fun.


7 comments to Plodding Through My Plotting

  • >>No, I’m really asking. How do I come up with a plot?

    LMAO! How the heck do I know! I am trying to do that for my second Skinwalker book and and I am 88 pages in and… How the heck do we *do* this!!!???!!!!
    Faith — who needs a beer.

  • I don’t think it’s lame at all. Writing isn’t like other jobs, in which you attend training before you’re let loose on the clients or customers. We’re pretty much self-taught, and it’s important for people who aren’t published yet to know that just because someone IS published doesn’t mean the whole process suddenly becomes easy. 😀

  • MIsty, David, when I give seminars on writing I use the brain surgery analogy. You can’t pop out of highschool with your hopes and dreams and buy a shiny new scalpel and rush into the nearest hospital and shout, “I want to be a brain surgeon! Who’s first?” Like brain surgery, a writer has to learn (in the case of a writer it is a solitary job) and then keep on learning, forever.
    It ain’t easy. Not ever. But it does get *easier*. Sorta.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    Plot is elusive…I find that if I don’t have enough ahead of time, the project flounders. If I have too much…if I make a tight outline, the project also flounders…

    Thanks for your post, David.

  • Thanks for the comments, all. I especially like Jagi’s point. There is most definitely a balance to be found. Like her, I can’t start with nothing in terms of outline, but I also can’t have things too precisely mapped out — I find that stultifying.

  • I believe Robert Jordan said that he makes guideposts to write towards. So he plots like: I want A, B, and C, to happen in my story. He then leaves exactly how to get these points free. If I remeber correctly, he likened it to seeing the hilltops poking through fog.

  • I actually approach it the same way, Mark. I believe I referred to them as “mileposts” in my post to Lucienne’s blog, but the idea is much the same. You give yourself goals along the way, but leave yourself enough freedom in between the mileposts to keep the narrative fresh and dynamic.