Friday, June 6, 2008

Plot and Plunge - the best of both worlds

Tip of the Day: Check out Darcy Pattison's NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE if you find yourself struggling with how to break down the process of revising a novel.

I've been thinking about conflict and plot a lot as I'm working on a new mid-grade novel. I was telling a writer friend just yesterday that the first two mid-grade novels I wrote, many years ago, which I shopped but never sold, took me a really long time to write. One of them, I specifically remember leaving and not coming back to it for like six months. I think I hit the sagging middle, and I didn't know where the story was going or what the point was or what should happen next. So, I stopped writing. For months! Eventually, I decided I needed to go and delete a scene, and take the book in a different direction. Once I did that, I was able to continue writing and finish the book.

Often times we'll see interviews where an author is asked, are you a plotter or a plunger? I don't think there's anything wrong with either answer. However, the answer I saw recently that I really loved was from Cecil Castelluci, author of QUEEN OF COOL and BEIGE, among others. She said something like - I'm a plunger trying to learn to be a plotter. I thought, yes, me too!

There is something to be said for writing a book without a lot of knowledge of what's going to happen. Some wonderful things can happen that way. Things you are surprised by, things that take you places you hadn't thought of. However, I do think it's easier to write a book if you have an idea of where the story is going, what the main character wants and how he/she is going to get it.

As I write the first draft, I'm now more aware that almost every chapter should have some conflict. One of the exercises Darcy mentions in the book above (see tip of the day) is to go through the finished manuscript and put a checkmark after every chapter if there is conflict. If you have three chapters in a row without any conflict, you're probably in trouble. Conflict is what keeps a reader turning the pages. Conflict is what makes a good story. But conflict can also be hard to write. We come to like our main character. We don't want to throw him/her in a tree and throw rocks.

So, I now take notes on notecards before I start to write the book. I think about the conflict that's going to occur and how the character will react to the conflict. I also bounce ideas off writer friends. One of my friends gave me a great idea for the book I'm writing now, and it's become an excellent source of conflict in the book. It's okay to talk about your book with trusted friends and get ideas! One little thing can spark your imagination and you're off and running.

One final tip I leave with you - when you are done writing for the day, write some notes on the manuscript below where you left off about where you see the story going next. Maybe even have categories that you make yourself write a little bit on - scene coming up, conflict that's going to happen, characters involved, etc. I find it's much easier to come back and start back in when I've left myself those notes.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a plunger, or like me, a little of both?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed


DeenaML said...

Thanks for the Tip of the Day -- I need to read a good book on revision! And when I go through my current revision, I'm gonna do that "check mark next to each chap with conflict" and see how it looks....

I start as a plunger, then when I realize I'm in trouble, I try to do some plotting/brainstorming with friends, and then I finish it knowing I have to severely revise the entire first half of the book. :)

Great post!

ddpattison said...

Thanks for the mention!
I'm definitely NOT a plunger. Need to know lots before I can start.


Emily Marshall said...

I'll definitely have to check out the book on revision. I'm sort-of a plunger and sort-of a plotter. I kind of have an idea where I'm going and I usually have an outline. But I change my mind a lot, and the story never ends like I plan.