Plotting the novel
In 2018, I entered the Richell Prize (yes I’m blaming you!) for my current WIP. At the start of last year, I wrote the first 25,000 words and since I’d entered my other manuscript in every other award the year before I decided I’d give it a go. This is the first time I’d entered a manuscript that was not complete. What does the Richell entry involve? A detailed chapter summary and a synopsis.
Agh for a pantser this is torture! Even though I have a vague idea of what happens in my stories and where they will go, I can’t really see the details in between until I start to write them. I have tried character profiles and all that stuff and just can’t get into the characters head until I start writing it. I’m not someone who sees a story in terms of plot points but in terms of how a character changes, so writing a synopsis was a real struggle!
But I did it! And I was really proud of myself for getting it done. I thought, hey, maybe I can be a plotter after all! How much easier life would be if I know where I’m heading? So with a detailed plot plan in place, I entered the competition and then forgot all about it. I set this manuscript aside while I worked on the structural edit notes for my other manuscript and prepared it for submissions.
The problem with plotting
And then the submissions went out and in the second half of 2018, it was time to go back to my manuscript. There were a host of other reasons for making it difficult to write again… but every time I sat down to write, I’d look at my chapter summary and it would look like absolute jibberish. Even though the plot details were there, I couldn’t see where the story was going.
I had to get back into my characters head again and the chapter summary wouldn’t do that for me.
Finally, in the New Year, I started handwriting scenes and making notes about the characters as I went to get back into my character headspace. I know that the time that passed between writing also made a big difference in losing the voice of my character, but I also felt trapped by the ‘plan’ and found I was writing super boring scenes with no tension and the character was just blundering along. I just didn’t care what was going to happen in the story, because I’d lost touch with where my character was going.
Once I let go of that synopsis and let the story unfold naturally, it was then my writing got back on track.
Trusting the process
So what have I learned about myself as a writer? I’m never going to be a die-hard plotter, and trying to conform to that will not be helpful. I think up until this manuscript, I had accepted the kind of writer I am and with seven complete manuscripts (sitting in the metaphorical bottom drawer) I’ve learned to trust in the process. I know I’ll get to the end of it eventually, in my own way.
I do want to continue entering competitions, but I think it is easier to do so when the story is complete and I know what it’s all about.
I do need a bit of plan and an idea to get started. I like to jot down notes as the story starts to form in my mind. But mostly my notes consist of statements such as:
Maybe the protagonist could do this? Maybe she is scared of this because of this and then she ends up doing this.
OR maybe she doesn’t do this, maybe this happens and then…
And then I just let the story unfold. Unfortunately, it means my writing style requires A LOT of redrafting. BUT I have really learned a lot from editing seven other manuscripts and seeking feedback from professionals and I know the editing phase is where my story really comes alive.
So hopefully manuscript number eight (that’s a lucky number, right?) will be THE ONE?
Well, one can only dream…