Throwing the Plot Out

So you know how I love plots? There’s a secondary thing I have to mention about that.

See, there comes a time when I’m writing that the plot, great as it is, doesn’t work anymore. The characters have become people rather than vague memories of people I knew once that I’ve placed into the story as stick figures to dance at my every whim. When that happens, events start to unfold differently and, a lot of the time, it means that the original plan no longer works.

Then I throw out the plot.

And that’s totally fine. ((For me, anyway)) By that time, I’ve usually gotten to the point in the story that I already know what my characters are like and what they would do in any given situation. Not only that, but I’m also very familiar with how the antagonists will move as well, so the rest of it comes together in a secondary, on the fly sort of replacement plot to follow instead. One that is this time informed by what the characters are actually like and not what I think they will end up like.

I try very hard not to get attached to those original endings.1 In doing so, I don’t really mind when something changes drastically and I can make it all work out in the end. It’s not like the original ending is going to waste,2 it just means that it doesn’t work here. And so it’s totally fine to let those endings go away and be replaced by something that’s more fitting for the characters that the story actually churned out.

In the end, it makes for a better story. I love plots, I really do, but sometimes you just have to know when to let that plot go. If it doesn’t work anymore and you have another idea that’s really good, you can always toss out the original and go with the new one. In fact, you should probably do that. If it doesn’t work out, your original plot will still be there3  and you can go back to it if you need to.

  1. A lot more people would be dead if I were []
  2. If I like it, I can always use it somewhere else, and I have! []
  3. Don’t set it on fire or anything, just put it off to the side after throwing it dramatically in the air []

The Joys of Plotting

There’s an old question in the writing community that I think most of us have been asked at least once. Plotter or Pantser? Do you already know your story when you start writing, or do you write without a plan and let the story flow naturally and see where it goes?

Pantsers do have more fun. I was a pantser originally and there’s a thrill and joy in just barreling through a story and seeing where it goes. You have a lot more opportunity to be surprised and invested in the story because you are seeing it unfold as you write. Every twist is interesting and, sure, the editing in the end is a bit crazy, but the ride is worth it.

Or it used to be. I am a plotter now. The trouble I kept finding when I was pantsing was that I had a lot of stories that never got done. I kept getting stuck and I didn’t know what I was going to do next, so I would go to another project. I had every intent of coming back, really, but I just never did. Worse, I’d come back to it later and realize how little sense previous scenes made in the context of newer ones and the work required to bring it all into something cohesive was too daunting for me to want to go back to it.

I love having a plot to work with and knowing where my stories are going. If I know what’s going on, then I never have to stop to consider what’s come before and figure out how the next sequence of events actually fits in. The plotting process, for me, is where I get the first run of the story done. It’s where I get the story figured out before the characters come to life. It’s when I get to barrel through the story and see where it goes.

Essentially, the plotting stage is pantsing for me.

I get to see where the story goes and learn about the characters as I see what their actions are. If something doesn’t make sense, I can very easily go back and see what works and what doesn’t. Because I haven’t written it proper yet, I can change the notes and it isn’t too daunting. And while I’m going, I can throw in all the specifics of a scene to include when I get around to writing it, as well as create those scenes that I know I’ll be really excited about getting to.

I also finish a lot more now that I’ve started plotting. The first draft now feels a lot more structured and I know when it’s going to end. I don’t always know how, but if I ever get lost, I have something to fall back on, and that has made all the difference. Well, for me at least.