Should You Plot Or Not?

man with hand on temple looking at laptop

Plot means the story line.  When people talk about plotting, they mostly mean how to set up the situation, where to put the turning points, and what the characters will be doing in the end.  What happens.

Some fiction writers write organically, not knowing where the story they are writing is going.  These writers say it would be boring to know what’s going to happen next and they lose their enthusiasm to tell the story because they know the outcome already.  They prefer throwing themselves over the edge and into the void.  This method can be very anxiety-producing.  It means you need a lot of faith in your process.

Other writers plan the story before they begin.  In detective fiction the story definitely needs to be worked out beforehand so information can be drip-fed to the reader.

In the past, when creating my short stories, I have worked organically and not known where my stories were headed as I wrote them.  The shorter the piece of fiction, the less need for plot.  You can write an interesting story in which not very much happens.  A woman fights with her neighbour, a man quits his job, or an unhappy family goes out for a pizza.  Simple structures work better than something too complicated when the story is short.

“A plot can, like a journey, begin with a single step.   A woman making up her mind to recover her father’s oil paintings may be enough to start.  The journey begins there, as it did for Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishmentwhen he decided to commit his crime,”  Jerome Stern Making Shapely Fiction

The plot grows and develops out of what helps and what hinders the characters’ progress toward their goals.

The Writers’ Workshop   http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/plot2.html  ask:

  • But how do you know if your draft plot has the right amount of weight to carry an entire novel?
  • What kind of structures work?
  • Is there a quick way to design your own plot template?
  • And how do you handle a book with multiple points of view?

“A good plot has a clear motivation.  It has a clear structure.  It has an outcome.  It has subplots.  A good plot looks something like the plot structure template below,” The Writers’ Workshop.

 

Motivation Lizzie Bennett wants to marry for love
Plot structure She meets Darcy & Wickham. She dislikes Darcy, and starts to fall for Wickham. Wickham turns out to be a bad guy; Darcy turns out to be a good guy. She now loves Darcy.
Outcome She marries Darcy
Subplot 1 Jane Bennett (Lizzie’s nice sister) loves Bingley. Bingley vanishes. He reappears. They get hitched.
Subplot 2 Lydia Bennett (Lizzie’s idiot sister) elopes with Wickham. She’s recovered.
Subplot 3 An idiot, Mr Collins, proposes marriage to Lizzie. She says no. Her friend, Charlotte, says yes.

Of course, there are a lot of things that the above plot template doesn’t tell you.  It doesn’t say where the novel is set, it doesn’t tell you anything about plot mechanics – it doesn’t say why Lizzie dislikes Mr Darcy, or how Lydia is recovered from her elopement.  It doesn’t have anything to say about character.

The Writers’ Workshop strongly advises us to build a template much like the one above before starting to write:  If you’ve already started your MS then, for heaven’s sake, get to that template right away.

So all we need is  a beginning, a middle and an end.  Aristotle defined it like this:  A beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.

Easy peasy.  Not.

What about you?  Do you plot or write organically?  I’d love to hear what works for you and what sends you straight to the Writers’ Block Corner.

14 thoughts on “Should You Plot Or Not?

  1. I tend to write organically because I write short stories and things are pretty simple. I put a character in a situation and see what happens. For longer stories, I do tend to write a very basic plan, just a couple of notes on what I want to happen by the end and a few steps on how to get there. The rest I leave up to the characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes, Katia i agree. no plotting necessary for a short story and for longer stories a basic plan sounds like the way to go. knowing what you want to happen at the end of the story makes a huge difference. you just have to plot some steps to get there. congrats on being able to do this. not easy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. wow! yes, 20 years is what it takes. it’s 18 years for me since publication of my first story in a literary journal. it’s a long journey of constant learning and, hopefully, improvement.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. yes, Katia i agree. no plotting necessary for a short story and for longer stories a basic plan sounds like the way to go. knowing what you want to happen at the end of the story makes a huge difference. you just have to plot some steps to get there. congrats on being able to do this. not easy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I came across likening this to gardeners for the organic approach and architects for the full in advance plotted outline. I’m more of the former, as I get fun out of seeing what ideas and links can pop up for the subplots, but I have to have a basic foundation for the main plot to follow. A balance, then! Lovely article :>)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. great idea to compare writing organically with gardeners and those who plan with architects. it’s good you know what works for you. i like the excitement of seeing what unfolds, but can be very anxiety-provoking 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Libby. Staying in control is vital – the idea of going off on tangents that then have to be taken out or heavily modified – that is what I would feel anxiety-provoking. It’s all hard enough as it is without that!

        Liked by 1 person

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