The plot thickens

09 June 2011

I write these following words with caution, but I think I may have settled on a plot. I think the time has come when I’ve organized it as well as I can and I have to stop worrying about it and get on with it.

I was talking to one of my best girlfriends this morning, Jena and she’s a poet who is considering writing short stories again. We were chatting and she said, in an off-hand way, that she might have some questions for me. And that got me to thinking about my own process.

I’ve been banging on about plots and outlines here, and it’s occurred to me that what I consider a plot/outline might be a draft in someone else’s eyes. The thing I’ve written that I’m calling a plot/outline isn’t written in point form, isn’t written on cards (that method never clicked with me, much as I tried to force it), and it’s not set in stone. It’s pretty long winded, there are a lot of sentences that start with my favourite over-used words: so, and, anyhow and but.

So many people are against plots and outlines. Either they seem a waste of time, or unnecessary, or restrictive, but people – in my experience – are loathe to write one. But if you’re going to write a novel, that’s a lot of information to remember and cover, and to organize it you really need a bird’s eye view. So I put all the key bits of information into my outlines and I’m wondering if they might be considered drafts by someone else.

I’ll give you an example. Here’s the plot/outline for the opening section/chapter:

Starts with Heather telling Robin, Harvey and Winnie about the reality show at a deflated celebratory party at home. She’s been gone one week in total. Kicked off ‘Welcome Home’ competition to see who’s the Best Housewife In Britain. Winnie’s trying to pump up Heather’s confidence, Harvey thinks the whole thing is stupid. Robin is happy to have her home – didn’t like the idea of her ‘playing house’ with another man/men. Heather goes over the comments from the cast – that she’s average, plain, unremarkable, satisfactory but no real pizzazz. She’s distraught and the party only makes her feel worse. She also tells the family about her post-show interview and how she really played up ‘her character’s’ strengths. She was going for ‘ingenue’ but comes off looking like she’s faking being a lot younger.

That’s how the entire outline is written. I’m beginning to agree with the children’s author Jean M. Auel who said:

There are two kinds of writers in the world: the organized ones and the organic ones. When you’re organized, you do an outline, you do character studies, you do all of this and all of that before you write. The other approach is the organic one. You know where you’re going and you kind of just let it take you there. The outline I’m working from now happens to be my first draft.

I think the outline I’m currently working from is a first draft of sorts too. You know, when I finish a First Draft my tutors, mentors and teachers have always looked at me sternly before reminding me that all writing is re-writing. And I’d always thought that meant starting from scratching and re-doing the entire thing. Like when you screw up the batter for a cake, you start from scratch. That’s not the way for novels, you can add the eggs you forgot (I seem incapable of remembering eggs when baking for reason’s that remain unclear) and the cake/novel’ll turn out just fine.

All this is to say that I might start thinking of my strange – slightly obsessive – habit of writing outlines/plots as really just a very rough first draft. Though, now that I feel like the plot/outline’s finished I don’t feel comfortable saying I’ve got a first draft done. That seems very premature.

Let’s just say that now I know where I want to go, and I’ve got some very good directions, and pit-stops are marked. The car’s gassed up, snacks have been packed, the weather looks good.

Off we go then.