Plots and Plotting Plotters

As of today, I’m about 12,000 words into the new novel I’m working on and I feel like I’ve built some momentum. I try to slip some sleeping pills into my inner editor’s mashed-potatoes when I work on the first draft of a novel, knowing that the heavy lifting of editing and rewriting will come later. But, the editing can’t come until I have the first freaking draft done. I’ve been writing all day and my brain is feeling mushy, so I’m taking a break from novel and turning to the blog. Sorry, blog. Don’t take that personally. I love you in a different way.

I’m not sure why, but while working on this new project I keep garth_greenbeing haunted by the idea of plotting. Specifically, I keep feeling pangs of jealousy about writers whose processes involve plotting/prewriting. I guess this jealousy is born of the feeling I get when I finish a scene or chapter and suddenly feel overwhelmed by possibility. Sure, I have a general sense of my overarching plot and I have ideas about a handful of points of conflict and subplots, but I don’t have a road map. I don’t have an outline. I’m getting to know my characters as I write.

I know that I’m not alone in this approach. I recently reread Stephen King’s On Writing and King has a downright adversarial relationship to plotting. He writes:

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot).

What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

These were situations which occurred to me – while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk – and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.”

I remember feeling a little bit vindicated when I first read that quote a decade or so ago. On the other hand, plenty of writers engage in exhaustive plotting processes. Take Jim Butcher for example. Butcher plans out plots and subplots on notecards and makes a physical narrative arc on the floor before he starts drafting. That man has a roadmap. He has a whole damn atlas before he dives in.

The fact is, this is just a case of the grass being greener. I can’t use the plotting approach. I’ve tried. It feels almost disingenuous to me. Artificial. I find myself thinking, “I don’t even know these characters yet. How do I know how they would react when their van is teetering on the edge of the hell-chasm. (Read all about it in my upcoming novel, The Van and the Hell-Chasm: A Tale of Teetering.)

Alright, internet. This concludes my procrastinating. Back to work.


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