Oct 5, 2013


Notes on writing based on J.S.Bell 'Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure' - by Lisa Agosti

Each one of us has its own preference when it comes to outline the plot of our novels. There is no single, inviolable way to lay a fictional foundation. 
Even among the fiction masters, there are two distinct categories: the "plotters" and the "no plotters".

"Plotters" like to outline their novel in a specific, detailed grid before setting off actually writing the story. The risk involved in choosing these methods is losing spontaneity and the freshness of the unplanned stream of consciousness.

"No plotters" on the other hand follow their characters lead, letting them wonder wherever they have to. The result is unknown to the author until the Muse allows the story to appear on paper. The risk involved in letting our minds wander is finding a few exhilarating gems lost in a sea of uncertainty and dullness.

Would you define yourself a "plotter" or a "no plotter"? Would you rather follow a map or a feeling?
Either way, try not to be extreme in your choice. 
Use your first spontaneous draft as an outline for a more controlled plot, or let your imagination fly even if it deviates from the predefined chapter scheme.
Any method will work so long as it is your method.

Ideas for "no plotters":
  1. Set as your goal a specific number of words you have to write every day (many writers choose 1000 words). Try to write first thing every morning, when dreams are still lingering, see if it suits you.
  2. Begin a new day by rereading what you wrote the day before (better in hard copy) and jot down your notes. Correcting yesterday's writing can be your starting point.
  3. Once a week, record your progress on a plot grid. This way you'll have a clear idea of your journey path.
Ideas for "plotters":
  1. If you like the index cards system, keep some blank post-it with you at all times, or download a software that simulates this widely used technique. This is a great way to harness occurring bursts of genius whenever they occur. Play around with your notes creating a visual index for your scenes.
  2. The headlights system compares writing to driving at night. You have an idea of the direction you are going but you can only see as far as your car's highlights. Keep in mind: you should have an idea of where you want to end up (final chapter), so you can better enjoy the ride!
  3. The narrative outline (or treatment) can run between 20 and 40+ pages. It is written in the present tense, includes some crucial bits of dialogue. You are trying to create a large canvas overview of the story.
  4. The David Morrell Method (author of "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing"): keep a daily journal writing a letter to yourself, asking questions about your idea. WHY am I writing this? What is the book about? Why is the character behaving so and so?
  5. The Borg outline is a all-encompassing system defining the general first, then tweaking more and more the specifics. Start with an overall structure, then focus on each act, then on each chapter of each act. Write down biographies for each character to get to know them better.
To help you understand which category you fall into, choose your 10 favorite novels of all times. Are they plot driven or character driven?
It could very well be that if you read plot driven novels you are a "plotter" and if you prefer character driven stories you are a "no plotter".

Have a good novel!