Sunday, April 11, 2010

Can you decide your plot in advance?

This morning as I was walking on the treadmill at the gym, I got a sudden inspiration for a plot complication, an insight into where one of the two parallel stories in the novel I'm writing is going. I'd done some logical thinking about all of the various possibilities but this was one I hadn't even considered although clearly my imagination had gone on working on it while I was working yesterday on a big edit for a nonprofit, cleaning out drawers in my kitchen, sleeping and dreaming about having to load two huge dishwashers with unending piles of cups and plates and glasses. And so, as I walked along, halfway into my workout, there was an answer and a quite clever one at that.

Two women I have coached in the last year have been making the transition from short story writing to novel writing and both of them are highly discouraged because they don't have a clear plot outline to work from. I'm a firm believer that the plot evolves as the story evolves, as you come to know your characters and their choices and just like in real life, their choices beget other choices and have consequences and the path they can take narrows or widens but I'm not sure there's any other way to know that until you reach the fork in the road with them.

One of the joys of fiction writing for me is how different it is from non-fiction. In my professional life, I write white papers and researched articles on everything from probiotics to gold mines. I assemble a lot of information, organize it, and write it up. No surprises and often the articles follow the well-tested format of standard essay writing. But when I write fiction, I never know what or who's going to show up, what they're going to be wearing, what they're going to say or do. That's the fun of it, the discovery or uncovery of plot and theme and idea.

I think it's probably possible to know the end of the book before you write the book, especially if your story is based, however loosely, on actual events. But I don't think fiction is intended to be outlined and plotted out. At least it doesn't work that way for me.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I have a loose framework upon which I work the story. I think I know the end, or I might have an ending in mind. I tend to write in pieces and out of order. Scenes pop into my head at the oddest moments and I might not even know where they fit until later in the process. I'm working on writing straight through, picking up where I left off from one day to the next. I have a point on the horizon I aim for but I'm always ready to come ashore at a different spot if need be. I love it when the characters take over and I am merely dictating their story.