Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Plotter versus writer

I've been noticing as I'm writing crime book three (deftly slipping in excuse about not blogging for so long) how a story grows in unexpected ways. I don't plan much, but I do have a point to point scheme to follow, usually covering the next two or three chapters.

What's interesting is how things change as characters come alive on the page. For example, I had an image of one major character as a secretive quiet sort, and she suddenly exploded into a creature of passion and temperament, surprising me as well as the other characters on stage at the time. The story immediately took off.

This is the key, I think. You've got to allow your inner writer to do it for you. You put the characters on the stage, start the ball rolling, and let 'em rip. For me, that's when writing is a joy.

Of course it doesn't last. The very next thing I did after that was ignore my point to point plan and promptly write myself into a corner. Heroine was in the wrong place at the wrong time, there was vital info missing and I couldn't get out of it without backtracking on the scene I was then writing and putting in the missing one.

What's happening here is the interweaving of the plotter with the writer. Both jobs are needed, but the wise plotter knows when to let the writer have his head. Plotter steers, writer grows the story.

Even if you don't plan at all and fly by the seat of your pants, there is still this game of keeping the two tasks working in tandem.


  1. This is absolutely the best description I've ever read of what happens to me when I'm really enjoying the writing process! Thank God I'm not alone! I've been trying to pigeonhole myself for so long and it just never felt right - until now!

    Plotter steers, writer grows the story. Brilliant!

  2. Thanks Liz. Well encapsulated. In my case I rarely have much plot. Just a set of characters and their back stories. It makes it hard to launch the ship initially. But once I've started, the plot begins to unravel in front of me. Walking into the mist (or sailing - to carry forward the ship analogy!), is the best description I've heard. As you move forward you can see more. "Of course! That's what happens!" But as you say, it can require quite a lot of reworking of earlier chapters to make it all fit together.

  3. Interesting insight, Liz.
    What happened to your character happened to one of mine also. It really takes you by surprise, doesn't it? Mine was supposed to be fairly minor, but she talked herself into centre stage all by herself!
    I'm not much of a plotter either - far too undisciplined and impatient I'm afraid.
    Best wishes,

  4. Glad it rings true with you all. Yes, launching is always the tricky bit. It's like getting to know a new friend as the characters begin to develop. Even if they pop up fully formed as they sometimes do, you don't really know them until you've written yourself into their game.

  5. Secretive quiet sorts are prone to explosions of passion, Liz. I think I'm going to like her. And, yes, characters do tend to develop personality traits as they grow, don't they? Isn't that what makes a writer passionate about their characters though? You have to give them their space... or they might get temperamental ;) ...whilst, as you say, steering them gently to where they are supposed to be! Nice post!