The Quest for Plot, Part 2: My Turbulent History with Plotting

I have never really been a big plotter/outliner before.

I did successfully outline my first novel entirely — and I went from blank page to finished rough draft in 16 days — but I spent 18 hours a day every day on it, and the whole experience was so difficult and messy, mentally, and the plot was so thin and predictable that I swore I would never use that process again.

Ever since, I’ve kind of held my nose up at it and pretended it wasn’t important (because I had no idea how to do it, and snootiness was my only defense).

The process I used on my last few novels basically boils down to this: Find your good guys and your bad guys, figure out what they’re fighting about, figure out where they’re going to fight at the climax, and set them loose. On the way, I have the freedom (or, rather, temptation) to explore side characters and dead ends, and it seems to work pretty well as long as action is involved.

It took about 1.5 years to draft my second book, and 1.5 years to do my third — both of them heavily action driven — but on the fourth book the process stopped working. Book 4, you see, was more character driven, with more introspection, and things went off the rails fast. Without a cast of characters that hate each other and want to kill each other racing to an end point, my technique of wandering-around-with-a-climax-in-mind just didn’t work. The plots went too far afield, and now I will have to dump it all and start over again if I ever want to finish that book.

Worse, I’ve been writing that novel for 2 years. 2 years and it’s a dead end with a complete reboot.

The situation is not sustainable if I want to be a professional, and I know it. And I do hope to be a professional one day — so I need to figure this out now and develop some sort of expertise in plotting because I need to write better stories, faster.

But how much do you need to write to make a living at writing? Let’s talk about that in the next post.

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