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September 6, 2011

Plotting Princess Sylvia McDaniel: Plotting Made Simple

People think writers have a burst of brilliance and then we sit down at the computer and the stories pour out.  When the idea for a book comes along and it's a good one, you have to stop and think about what company would want to publish this idea. Is there a market for it? How did these characters get into this predicament? How do I get them out? Is there enough conflict to last four hundred pages? Do I like these people enough to spend six months with them?
I admit, I'm an anal plotter and I spend months plotting a book. Then I spend several weeks researching, picking out names, doing a story board before I ever sit down at the computer and put those first words on the page. I envy the ladies/gents who are pansters and just sit down and write.  I have blinking cursor syndrome when I try to write without my road map.
Once I have the road map, my first draft is down and dirty. I can usually write a first draft in two months.  Then I spend another 2-4 months cleaning up that down and dirty first draft and giving it to my critique partners to point out the errors of my thinking.  "Did you really mean for your hero to be such a jerk that no woman would want him?"
Then I let the manuscript percolate for awhile. Time away from a story always gives me a fresh perspective and when I come back, I make more changes. Then I enter it in several contests where it's either loved or rejected and I do more edits. It's only after this long process that I consider sending it off to an editor or an agent.  By now I'm usually eight-ten months into writing this story. 
This may sound like a tedious process to many writers/readers, but I love it. I listened to Sharon Sala at an RWA session on CD the other day and she talked about being addicted to writing. I admit I'm so addicted that I need a twelve step program. I love to let the words pour out onto my computer screen. The movie plays in my head and my fingers translate the story onto paper.  The first draft is raw, but usually the ebb and flow of the scenes and the plot is there from my story board. And when something comes into the story that I didn't expect, it's bonus round and I've hit the writing jackpot.
I've been seriously writing for twenty years and have nine sales, a lot of near misses and working on book fifteen.  But I didn't start out plotting this way and through the years, I've learned from many good teachers and critique partners. 
The biggest lesson I've learned is that we each have to find our own way to write a book and the process is never easy.
But if you never sit down at the computer/typewriter/notepad, you won't finish a story. So however you write, do it daily.  Make writing a habit and soon you'll get into a writing zone where your brilliant story will pour out onto the paper and readers will think you're brilliant and it was so easy! And only you will know how difficult that plot was, how those characters drove you crazy, and you can't wait to start the process all over again.

So how much time do you devote to writing each day, week or month? How long does it take you to complete a project?


Liz Lipperman said...

Great advice, Sylvia. Like you, I am a card-carrying plotter. As I've said several times, my story usually takes a different road or two, but the guts of the plot still prevails. Also, like you, I like to percolate the story over 8-9 months. That's the time I have in my contract for finishing each book. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow for serial procrastination and marketing on another book.

I do attempt to write every day, but I can't. There are some days I would rather do just about anything else than churn out new stuff. I think those are the times when I'm "stuck" and need more plot.

I'm so in need of the princesses to help with this last book!

Margaret Fieland said...

I'm not a plotter, though as I continue to write, I do have more and more of an outline. I have a day job, and have had two novels accepted for publication (but not yet out). The first is a chapter book. I wrote the first draft in a weekend, then spent the next year and a half or two years learning to write fiction well enough to rewrite it the right way. The other one I wrote for Nano last year. It's a tween sci fi. I made notes -- fairly complete as to the alien planet, alien society. Had the main character and not much of an outline -- 15 plot points, all of which went out the window when I started to write, as did almost all the secondary characters. I let it sit until this January, then started revising. I finished revising sometime in June.

I'm now working on another sci fi (same main character 4 years older), and I had far more of an outline -- character arc, main plot points, blah, blah, and I kept far more of it. I'm still rewriting that one.

Laura Drake said...

I'm a kind of 'tweener,' I know the characters, turning points and ending before I begin, but I'm on my pants after that.

I love the 'writing addiction' comment - I was determined to back away from the computer this long weekend. The resolution lasted about an hour...I think that qualifies as an addiction. Good news though, I broke through my roadblock!

chris keniston said...

I learned to use a story board years ago - half way through a pantsed book I'll plot the end to make sure I don't forget anything

After a couple of books my friends decided I'd be better off pansing the whole thing because my pre planned plots were much less interesting than the seat of my pants happenings!! LOL.

If a story really gels and I am not bogged down too much with my real work - I can spit out a finished and revamped book in four to six months. If real life gets in the way- well- LOL - it could be a while.

I have however discovered my best place to write is on a beach with the ocean lapping in front of me - I finished off the last third of a book in two weeks.

So next goal- win the lottery, buy a beach house, and knock out four books a year like Nora!! LOL.

Anyone else have a special scenario where you do your best work?

Angelyn said...

Great post, Sylvia! I'm a little of both--pantser and plotter. Depends on which muse happens to stop by. But I love hearing about your process.

Sylvia said...

When I'm in my first down and dirty draft that's when I have the most fun and can't wait to get back to my movie. But when I'm stuck...I can go days without writing, just thinking.

We'll brainstorm this latest book.

Sylvia said...

Hi Margaret,
Congratulations on the sold novels. I too have a day job and there are nights I go home and I don't want to produce my five pages. I've also discovered over the years that rewriting is just part of the process. I'm looking to tweak a novel I completed in April. I entered it into a contest and got creamed! But the judges all had the same comment, so I have to go back and make my hero more likeable. Rewriting can be tiresome, but it's part of the process.

Geri said...

Sylvia, I write exactly like you. I love that process. However, I don't have 15 written books! You go girl1

Geri Foster

Sylvia said...

Hi Laura,
I heard an entire workshop on the "Writing Addiction" and I identified with that so well. I guess there could be worse addictions to have. My husband tells me I'm much happier after I've been writing for awhile. If I didn't enjoy it so much, I would have quit a long time ago. A tweener...I'd never heard that comment, but if it works for you, then keep doing it. Thanks for stopping by today.

Sylvia said...

Hi Chris,
I love to write in the mountains or the lake. Give me a mountain cabin, a cool breeze and a glass of ice tea and I'm so happy. Glad you found the perfect place to write. I buy lottery tickets on a regular basis, to keep us from having a state income tax. HA! If I win the lottery I'm a full-time writer.

Sylvia said...

Thanks for coming today, Angelyn. I wish I could be more of a panster. If it helps you write faster and better books, I'm all for it. But I enjoy writing so much that I have to write. It's been 8 years since I've sold a book, my longest drought, but I've learned how much I love writing. I can't give it up.

Sylvia said...

Hi Geri,
Thanks! Glad you stopped by and it's nice there is another "anal" plotter like myself. I just have to know that roadmap or else I'm wandering through the desert.

Kathy Ivan said...

Hi Sylvia, welcome to the blog! I'm definitely a plotter by nature although I haven't gone so far as to do storyboards or anything like that. I'm more of get the story idea in my head and then talk it out. I find when I'm discussing where I think the characters should be heading, I usually get steered in an entirely different direction, which takes the story places I never expected.

Like you, I work the Evil Day Job to pay the bills, and sometimes (recently most time) it eats into my writing time. But when a story is working, and the words are flowing, it's the best feeling in the world.

I've got some brainstorming to do for my next book, too.

Patricia said...

Great post, Sylvia! I'm a pantser and pretty much plan how I want to begin the book and know how I want it to end. The characters and I fill in the "in between". But it takes me about the same amount of time to get it to the point where I'd start sending out query letters. Then I continue to revise it anyway based on re-re-re- reading it and perhaps after taking a class where I've learned something new. But what I have read, along with what you said as well, we should write every day, make it habitual, make it our job.

chris keniston said...

I SO agree with Sylvia and Patricia-

due to computer issues I've broken the habit of writing every day- but even if you only write a page on hard days- the good days when page after page flows like a faucet more than make up for the hard days.

But it's the habit that makes the difference. It's the ritual that produces the finished product.

which means it's time for me to go in hunt for that missing Office 97 CD so i can load word onto my new netbook- lol.

Nothing like a blog to get us on the stick!!! LOL

Sylvia said...

Hi Kathy,
I must admit my day job is pretty good, though it's not writing related. I can talk about my plot, but I have to take notes. You really are a very good plotter. I was so impressed when you talked about your book at the PP meeting.

Sylvia said...

Hi Patricia,
Thanks for stopping by. This was my first blog...I'm a late bloomer. I so wish I could be a panster, but it just doesn't work for me. By writing every day, my writing improves and the story comes to me easier. Even though I know what's going to happen in each scene there is dialogue to worry about and character's personalities to show.

Karilyn Bentley said...

Hi Sylvia,
Great blog! It's interesting to me to see how different authors write. I'm a cross between a pantzer and a plotter, but with more emphasis on the pantzer. I attempt to write every day, but sometimes life gets in the way. :)

Sylvia said...

You are so right about when the good days making up for the bad days. Computer issues! Yuck! How did we ever live without them. I'm not a writer who can sit and let the words flow onto paper. I can type over a hundred words a minute and can't imaging using a pad and pencil, though there are many writers who say this frees up their creativity.

Sylvia said...

Hi Karilyn,
Yes life often gets in the way, but doesn't it feel good when you get back to the computer and start working again. I also admit that I love games. Solitaire in particular. But I'm trying to reward myself with a game of solitaire once my pages are done. Also email. No email until the pages are done. Then there is cooking and laundry that always seem to get in the way.

Kathy Ivan said...

Like Karilyn, I'm basically a hybrid (plotting some and pantsing the rest of the way). There's nothing I enjoy more (other than the actual writing of course) than sitting down with other writers and brainstorming stories. It just gets my creative process moving forward and helps in so many ways.

Linda Steinberg said...

Great post, Sylvia, and great comments from plotters, pantsers and everything in between. I think everybody has to plot at some point. Some do it before they type the first word, and others don't do it until after the whole manuscript is finished. I'll be talking about rewrites and revisions at the Princesses retreat, something that I am addicted to as much as the first draft. Really interesting to hear how everybody plots.

Sylvia said...

Hi Linda,
Sorry ladies, the day job got really busy there for a little while. I can't wait to hear you talking about rewrites and revision. I hope you have a magical plan that will make it easier. And Kathy, yes talking about plotting always gets my creative juices flowing.

PamnTX said...

Great blog, Sylvia! You gave me some good ideas to consider and try out. Thank you for sharing with us.

Phyllis said...

Hi Sylvia,

I love your great – first ever blog post! Me, I’m the pantser who needs to know the ending, at least. BUT, sometimes, I will sit down and “work out” some thoughts of where I want the story to go.

My best ever time to write is the middle of the night. It doesn’t matter where, but my muse likes the nightlife. I get inspiration from listening to my “mood” music. If I need an action scene, I listen to action music. If I need a love scene or tender moments, I listen to music that stirs those emotions in me. Most my music is instrumental and quite often are movie soundtracks. My best place doesn’t matter. It’s all a time thing with me.

I love the original writing of the story. That is when I’m excited about my characters and how I handle them in and out of situations. That said: I hate, hate, and hate the editing. Re-writing isn’t so bad though because that is usually intertwining fresh story into the old.

Yes, the day job is still a pain. I get so busy with it that by the time I get home, those thoughts of writing are a distance memory for my earlier aspirations in the day.

I know that Liz does this, but sometimes my writing gets going by handwriting instead of the computer. Plus, I just recently learned that writing letters by handwriting vs. computer makes the brain stronger and helps fight against memory loss, because it makes the brain work harder. If that is result just from letters, think was novels could do! Hum…thought I was slipping, better get back pen and paper!


chris Keniston said...

hey phyllis - I keep telling myself I'm going to play mood music and have yet to try it.

I did write one book that the idea started because of a song - only time that's happened lol.

Now I'm even more anxious to try out some of the fun ideas -

I wonder if I could get a cruise ship to play mood music on the beach????

: )

Plotting Princesses said...

Sylvia -- what a good topic today! Thanks so much. And I truly appreciate all the new PP friends, too.

Kathleen Baldwin said...

Oh this was so good Sylvia! Very inspiring. I especially needed to hear,
"...however you write, do it daily."

Thank you! And big hug!

Sylvia said...

Thanks for having me yesterday. Sorry, I sort of disappeared on you. My day job kind of got busy. Phyllis thanks so much for stopping by and I wish I could write in the middle of the night. My eyes automatically shut at 11:30 and I'm out. Doesn't really matter where I'm at, it's lights out. Kathleen, glad I could inspire you. Now ladies I hope all of you write every day and produce some darn good books.