A couple of months ago, I read a blog post that forever changed how I approached drafting scenes. That probably sounds melodramatic, but it’s true.
We’ve often talked about the differences between plotters and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants), and how as a die-hard-and-happy-about-it pantser, I don’t want to plot or outline or come up with too many details for my story before I get it on the page. However, my experience with the fast-drafting technique of word sprints proved that I write faster when I have some idea of where a scene is going.
Hmm, is anyone else sensing a conflict between those two goals? My struggle to reconcile the two resulted in my Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story workshop.
I had a vague understanding of how I managed that balancing act, but I didn’t know how to explain it to others for the workshop. Enter the-blog-post-that-changed-my-thought-process: What a Concept! Plotting Your Novel Conceptually by one of my favorite bloggers and people in the world, Janice Hardy:
“Thinking about a story conceptually allows me to brainstorm what I want to have happen without worrying about the details. Things like, I know I want a major reveal and surprise at the mid-point. I know I want X to happen in the climax. Whatever the protagonist does at the climax of act one will come back to bite them in the all-is-lost-moment at the end of act two. I can shape the flow of the story even though I don’t know exactly how it will go. Conceptually, I know how I want it to turn out.”
Thinking in concepts. This is the link between pantsing—>planning—>plotting. This is what helps us think in the big picture of what we want to accomplish with a scene. This allows us to have some idea, some goal, to write toward, even when we’re pantsing.
My NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project has brought this issue to the forefront. I’d expected a confrontation between the heroine and her family to be one of the “pinch points,” but a complication I hadn’t seen coming at all (and I do mean that literally, I didn’t know it was going to happen until I typed it) ended up in the pinch point slot.
Uh-oh. Just because I’m a pantser doesn’t mean my perfectionist inner editor is silent while I’m drafting, and boy, did I hear angst-filled complaints throughout that section. But I’ve learned to trust my muse, so I ran with the scene.
Then I stepped back and thought about what I’d intended to accomplish with the original family confrontation scene. Guess what? This new scene accomplishes the same high-level goal: the heroine feels attacked, insecure, and lonely. A perfect time for the hero to step up, don’t you think? *wink*
For me, thinking about concepts, about the big picture, about what I want to accomplish with a scene, is all the planning/plotting I want to do in advance. But whether we’re plotters or pantsers or something in between, everyone can benefit from thinking in concepts. As Janice (a plotter) explains, these benefits include:
“I’m not locking onto any one particular detail that might prevent me from coming up with a better idea. It also helps me stay focused on the type of plot event I want, not just a scene that feels cool but might not serve the story I want to tell…
Next time you’re plotting, try looking conceptually at how you want the story to unfold. Think about:
- The types of events you want to happen at key points
- When surprises are revealed
- What plot points you want to connect or build off of
- What events will raise the stakes and where they’ll fall
- Where you want the reader to feel certain emotions”
I love it! I take this same attitude with me when I fill out beat sheets. I don’t worry about the details. I might know that something is going to trigger a turning point but not have the slightest clue what that trigger is until I get there.
Instead, I think about what I want to accomplish at that point, or about the type of scene I want. Am I trying to create a certain mood, reach an emotional turning point, or force a do-or-die choice? These clues to the big picture are more important to my ability to write a scene than knowing the specifics of how I’ll make it work.
So the next time you’re stuck on a scene, or worry that you’re being led down an irrelevant plot point, step back. Figure out—at the conceptual level—what you want to accomplish at that point in the story. Maybe you’ll realize you need to gag your characters. Maybe you’ll realize you were missing a goal or transition. Or maybe you’ll realize your muse came up with a better idea without telling you. *smile*
Do you think in concepts, specifics, or both? Do you struggle with knowing the point of a scene? Do you agree that thinking in concepts can help? Have you ever written a scene that accomplished the same goal but was better than the one you’d planned? Do you let your muse lead you down potentially irrelevant paths with the hope that he/she has a plan?
P.S. It’s the time of year to nominate your favorite writing blog for the annual Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest by Write to Done. Most of those who blog do it because we love helping others and making a difference in our readers’ lives, so please share the love and nominate your favorite writing blog to show your appreciation. I’m nominating Janice Hardy’s blog. Who are you nominating?