To Plot? Or Not?

I've run across an ongoing conversation in the blogosphere about the best way to write a novel. There are those who outline and plan before beginning a draft. They're called "plotters" or sometimes "plodders." I'm sure that second term is meant with affection.

Others simply write, letting the story grow organically, discovering the plot and characters along the way. I've seen those writers called "pantsers" for their tendency to fly by the seat of their pants. E.L. Doctorow said that writing is "like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." I'm guessing that he's a "pantser."

Although there are a few extreme opinions (like certain authors of child-rearing and dog-training books who suggest that using any method other than the one they espouse will doom the reader to failure), most writers seem to believe that the best way to write is the one that works for the individual writer.

I've been writing for almost eighteen years but I'm still not sure exactly what works for me. I've always done some plotting and some free-writing in the course of a project. Considering the weakness of the plot of my previous novel, I'm going to try a more deliberate plotting approach this time.

Since I'm the type of person who likes to draw a map of a room before moving the furniture, I have a feeling that I might have better luck with my next novel if I plan first. Perhaps I should have realized this sooner.

There are many books on plotting to use as a guide. Two that I've often heard mentioned as good resources are:

Story by Robert McKee

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

Both writers have backgrounds in film, which makes sense to me since the novel is a descendent of theater. Where would we be without Shakespeare?

Lately, I've been following Alexandra Sokoloff's Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog. She analyzes well-knows films to demonstrate how film plots work and offers suggestions and assignments to help writers plan a compelling storyline. I was delighted to discover that she's compiled many of her posts into an affordable e-book, also titled Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.

I'm off to work on my new novel, plotting and planning, but I also can't forget another quotation from E.L. Doctorow. "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."

So, while I plan my novel, I'll continue to write. Maybe I'll free-write to discover backstory, to flesh out my characters or to explore possible scenes. Or perhaps I'll take a side trip into a short story or an essay. I hope that this time it won't take six years to write my novel. And I hope that when I get to the end, I'll have a well-plotted story.

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