PLOT IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD
Every time I begin a new manuscript I’m loaded with anticipation and wonder. Here’s a totally blank slate for me to play with. New characters who whisper in my ear for me to tell their stories. An exciting inciting incident (say that three times fast) to kick things off. So what happens? Feverishly I write the first few chapters, maybe even four or five if I’m extremely lucky. Then suddenly I get to a point where I have to stop and start to plot the story. I have to figure out what my characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it, at least not until the end of the story.
Now I’m what they call a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I write into the mist. To me plot is a four-letter word, one that sends a shudder of fear and loathing through me. Still, unless I decide to write esoteric literary stuff, I know I need a plot, so I stop having fun and start having to work. And believe me it is hard work.
Because I don’t plot before I start I often have no idea if the characters I’ve been writing actually fit the basic framework of the story. Are their goals, motivations and conflicts consistent with the story I think I’m telling? Or have I gone completely off track?
Some authors know almost everything about their characters and the story before they start writing. Not me. At times I’m lucky if I know their names or what they look like. Usually I start a story with an image in my mind. With my first fantasy GEMINI MOON I pictured a woman waking from a dream of a handsome warrior to find him standing naked in her room. Great opening, but then what happens and why? I had to stop writing and find out who the woman was, who the man was, why he was naked and why he was in her room.
Since I was writing a fantasy romance the man isn’t a serial rapist, he’s a prince from another realm who’s come to Earth’s dimension to find his new bride’s missing soul, which by the way the heroine of the story happens to be in possession of. Once I figured this out the questions only continued to grow and the plotting continued. Why was his new bride’s soul missing? Why did the heroine have it? Why did he need to get it back?
As I asked myself these questions the plot started to develop in my mind and more slowly on the page. I plod along seriously wishing I’d never started this particular story. New characters creep into my head whispering seductively how their stories are much more exciting and interesting, teasing me with claims of actually having a plot, tempting me to abandon my current project and start theirs. But I persevere, pushing through the dreaded “middle of the story” only to face the most difficult challenge – writing the end of the story.
No matter how I try, how I plan, how I try to plot it out, the end of the story is always the toughest. I write it one way then another, then still another. I dream about it. I whine and cry to my critique partners about how awful this book is to finish, how I’ve never had this much trouble with any of my other books. They pat my shoulder and sympathize saying yes, this book is truly the most difficult to finish that I’ve ever written, when they know the truth. I claim the same for every book.
And then the magic happens. Everything comes together. I write feverishly, fearful the perfect ending I’ve managed to think of will evaporate before I can get it down. But in the end – oh, my favorite two words to write – THE END – is finally in sight and I finish the book. I breathe a sigh of relief and vow never to put myself through this horror again. Before I start my next book I’m going to plot it from beginning to end.
Then the whispers and images start again and I’m off on another rollercoaster ride.