Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Victoria James: Does the Journey Really Matter?

At the beginning of September, I had a book deadline moved up-big time. I needed to finish the manuscript by October 7th. I was a *tad* panicked. Usually I have at least three chapters of a manuscript started-this manuscript had nothing. There was a synopsis, but that was it.

I thought the only way for me to tackle this deadline would be to plot.

Yes...the panster needed to become a plotter.

I have always been secretly envious of plotters. They seem so calm and organized. Glancing at their notes, writing in such a dignified, orderly manner. I should love plotting. I was meant to be a plotter. I mean, I thrive on organization in every other area of my life. I hate chaos. I love neat and tidy. Order. Plotting = Order.

I know Natalie Charles did a fab job at transforming herself into a plotter, due to necessity. I was thinking I should really give this a try.

First, I was going to buy index cards (I'd heard some plotters talking about these things, and I swear I was always so envious of the idea of neatly written cards. Some plotters even say they shuffle them around if they need to move a scene). OMG, this plotting thing is irresistible...

Here's the breakdown of my 7-day attempt at becoming a Plotter:

Day One: Buy Index Cards (I also bought these cute, bright pens which I thought would be perfect for colour-coding chapters/scenes/themes). Organize. Think. Make notes on synopsis. Doodle a few happy faces and hearts.

Day Two: Begin to plot...with new pens...chapter by chapter. Send email to Olivia Miles stating how great I think this plotting idea is (Olivia is the master plotter) and how I should have discovered this so much sooner. My life was now going to be so much easier! I had discovered the joys of plotting!

Day Three: Sit down to write a new scene that just popped into my head while driving kid #2 to school. Ooops, that scene wasn't anywhere in the stack of index cards! Rifle through index cards, make a new index card for new scene and insert it into the pile. Perfect. I can do this. Mental note: remember to refer to the damn cards before you start writing.

Day Four: Look at the index cards. Frown. Index Card 1A, written in pink pen is telling me to start the book with the heroine on the front porch. Hmmm. I'm not really sure that's how I want to start the book. Hmm. Scratch out a few things and start the book a different way.

Day Five: Look at index cards and try and write in order. But I rarely write in order. I eventually get there, because of course the story needs to be tied together, but I usually get down a bunch of scenes that are begging to be written. Frown. Drum fingers on desk. This writing out of order, whichever scene you feel like writing, does not sound like something a plotter would condone. Especially because the scene I write isn't in the index cards. It's a new scene. Which would lead to changes in the rest of the scenes-which means my perfectly plotted book... It's okay, you can still do this. Go back to Index Card 2A written in green pen and write the scene, like the card is telling you to!

Day Six: Glance over at index cards that have now become coasters for my coffee mugs and mumble a few curses in empty office at the cards.

Day Seven: Make all the pretty cards into paper airplanes and fly them, one by one from your desk to the four corners of your office, maybe with the occasional 'screw you' as one does a nose-dive on your desk.

So what's the point of my rambling? Don't try and change what isn't broken. I have always, always had scenes in my head about characters before the book was ever started. When I sit down to start that book, those are the first things I write. Or, most often, when I open the document those scenes have already been written because I had jotted them down and then saved them for when I was ready to start the manuscript. I'm always afraid that if I don't get those scenes written, I'll lose the passion and emotion I'm feeling for them. Often this leads me with a manuscript that is comprised of tons of scenes that need to be tied together. Or characters, that halfway through the manuscript decide to do something else. I can't deny them! I'm able to do that. It works for me. It may not be the cleanest, easiest way to do it, but it works. The manuscript gets written.

You write the way you write, and just because someone else's method looks like the 'right' way, doesn't mean it's right for you. We all have a point A and a point Z...does the journey really matter?

In case you're wondering, yes, the manuscript was handed in...

What about you? Are you a plotter wishing you could be more carefree and just let loose and write (though after reading my methods above, I can see why you'd be thinking 'hell, no!') Or are you a panster, secretly wishing you could change? Or are you just happy with  your method?


  1. That's the thing about writing. You could talk to a group of writers and everyone has a different writing process that works for them. I fall firmly on the non-plotting side of the line. The minute I try to plot everything freezes inside me. I don't want to know what happens in my stories. I want to discover things at the same time as the characters.

    I'm glad you made your deadline :)

    1. Hi Shelley! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I like your reasoning behind the non-plotting, and that makes a lot of sense to me-I love the discovery as well and sharing that with my characters. Thanks for the insight :-)

  2. I'm so pleased you made your deadline too, Victoria! I'm a plotter ... kind of. I try to work off the 1 page proposal my editor agreed to at least, but leave sufficient 'wiggle' for those moments of inspiration that simply have to be included. They may well get cut during editing in the end, but there you go! I like the index card idea, but it's far too organised; I would lose them or the cat would eat 'em up, I just know it! xx

    1. Hi Rach! LOL-I'm so glad I'm not the only one who'd fail with the index cards!! I've now given the rest of the stack to my kids for colouring ;-)

  3. It still amazes me that YOU are not the master plotter because I know how hyper-organized you are with everything else! But ah, see, maybe you really are a plotter, just not on paper, but your head. You've clearly got it all together to meet a deadline with that kind of turn around. Congrats on reaching The End!

    1. Hi Olivia! Thanks for that vote of confidence...yes, I'm sure that's what it is...All organized in my head. I'll go with that! ;-)

  4. I plotted and plotted and the freaking story still did what it wanted to do!

  5. I used to write completely freestyle, just typing whatever came to mind, although I always had ideas about the beginning and the ending. Now, I keep a file of character sketches, motivations, conflicts, etc. It helps when I need to switch between books to get back into my characters' heads.

  6. Hi Jennifer...I just write whatever's on my heart and mind. I don't plan too much in advance.

    I want to thank you for your visit to my blog. Was happy you stopped by. Susan