Sunday, March 30, 2014

How To Not Plot A Novel

I’m basically writing a novel where I don’t know what happens next as I write each scene. For anyone writing seriously, this is terrifying. I touched on this before in this rambling post about finding the story.

Why don’t I just plot beforehand, you ask? Plotting just doesn’t work for me. I attempted it painstakingly before (on a very different version of the current novel) and the storyline in question became so contrived and ARTIFICIAL that I just lost interest in it and chucked it. I don't regret the wasted words though, because they taught me how not to write this story.

As hard as I try to plot my current novel from start to finish or even the next few chapters, it just WON’T HAPPEN. But wait. Stop. Do I need to plot at all?

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

Here’s the thing. I find that plot germinates from scene to scene. This means that with each decision I make on the page concerning my characters and important story elements, this impacts how the story will unfold later on.

Though I don’t outline my chapters before writing them, I do outline them afterwards so I can keep track of what has happened so far in the story. An outline is just life-saving when you temporarily stop working on a story to focus on something else and then decide to come back to it months later.

Also, when I’m in the middle of writing a scene, I tend to get ideas of things that may happen in future scenes and I make a point to jot them down so I can explore them later. And Mr. Picasso makes a very important point here:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

When I’m working on a story, I’m always thinking about it even during the time when I’m not actually writing the story. And this is when I tend to get revelations about so-and-so character and discover plot holes.

Sometimes, I find that there are several possible pathways down which my story could develop. In that case, I try out a couple of experimental versions (even if there is a chance that I might not keep it) until I find one that works for the story. And I never know where each version could lead me, but all I know is that it could lead me to someplace I never expected to find (Sparta! Or you know. Someplace cool).

Even discarded scenes are not a complete waste of words (and time) because maybe there are elements, bits of descriptions or even entire characters that might be worth keeping. In fact, an important character from my current novel emerged that way (from an experimental storyline that I’m not keeping).

At some point, it occurred to me that the only way to finish writing this book is to keep writing it until it's done.

Recently, I came across invaluable writing advice by the brilliant Timothy Hallinan and apparently, he doesn't outline.

Also, here's a hilarious post about writing a novel: The Nine Stages of Dating a Novel by Tahereh Mafi (a guest post on Nathan Bransford's blog).

P.S. I'm in the grovelling stage right now. Hundred more Word pages to go, before I finish some semblance of a first draft (or should I say "experimental" draft? O_o).