Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Plot Thick.. Um, thick... Darn, I'm Drawing a Blank!
I am a planner. I make lists. I set goals. I read maps. I like to have an idea of where I’m going before I leave my house. I'm baffled by people who can't give directions and ready to string up anyone who gives bad directions. Not really. Well, some days. ("Are you familiar with the area?" "No." "Well, you know where the old Bently home was? It was torn down in 1810, but there's this rock by a tree..." "Please, just point in the general direction.")
If I have errands to run, I quickly access my mental map and plan my route to insure the most efficient use of my time. I realize I'm sounding a bit inflexible, and perhaps a lot impatient, but I'm not. At least I'm not inflexible. I am impatient.
Now, I’m willing to accept there are others who are perfectly content with exploring whatever path lies in front of them. They are open to adventure. They want to see where the path leads and what wonders they will discover along the way. As a writer, they are called pantsers. Not being a pantser myself, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can start with nothing, have no idea where the story is going to end up and still produce a story. Yet, there are writers who seem to be able to do this easily.
For me, I need a starting point and destination. I start with who my characters are, how they meet and what puts them at odds. I also know how the story will end. Granted, all of this is sketchy and subject to evolve along the way, but I have something to go on.
Everyone has to find their own way of writing that works for them, but I often wonder if there are pantsers who find they rarely finish stories. Maybe they have a great idea, start writing, find themselves stuck and set it aside, only to repeat the process with another story. While they are exploring different pathways, perhaps they are gaining self-knowledge, building their craft or simply satisfying a need for creativity. There may be lots of value in doing these things. However, it isn’t producing a product – i.e. manuscript – and isn’t that the goal of being a writer?
When I find myself stuck on a story, I try to problem-solve. I make a tentative outline of major things I want to have happen then I start writing, trying to get from one major event to another. I don’t necessarily know what scenes I’m going to write or what my characters are going to do or say, so I get some element of surprise, but I know they are going to do something and why.
Again, not every technique works for every writer, but if you are stuck, I challenge you to try something different, whether you are a plotter or pantser. And don’t stop writing. Creativity and writing skills are like muscles. If we stop using them, they grow weak. Not every word you write has to be perfection, but even writing bad sentences is better than not writing at all.
I would love to hear what techniques you use to keep your stories going, or how you defeat writer's block, so please, tell me NOW! Oops. Sorry, about that. Take your time.