IIITTTT’SSSS PLOTTING DAY!!
It’s our favourite day of the… well, every few weeks, more or less.
Though that said, I’m not sure that what I do really constitutes plotting any more. I used to be a plotter. I used to be a queen plotter. I would start with a skeleton beatsheet of the structure and major story points, then I would essentially layer drafts on top, adding more detail and flavour to the core structure.
It’s how I was trained as a screenwriter (screenwriting is ALL about plot… I’m personally not convinced that structure alone makes the best movies, but it definitely sells the most screenplays), and it’s definitely an efficient way to work. It means that you hammer out a lot of the story issues at a very early stage, and on the days when the inspiration fairy is away on holiday, you can still generally hammer out a chapter or two because you’re so clear on what needs to happen.
But here’s the thing.
It’s kind of boring.
I’m often asked how I manage to be disciplined enough to work every day when I’m totally on my own with only self-imposed deadlines. The answer is that a) having no other income helps a LOT, and b) that if I expect you to be excited to find out what happens next, then I’d better be too! There have been many, many days on which I could see work far enough, but I was dying to see how Ruari would react to this or how Ellie would deal with that.
That’s when I learned to plot, but not over plot.
The trick is to find the balance between enough of a road map so as not to get lost in the story, yet at the same time, leave myself enough space to stay curious.
Also enough space for my own creativity and instinct. Many’s the time I’ve plotted a particular twist to happen at a particular point because that’s what structure conventions dictate, but when I got to that bit, it didn’t feel right. The characters weren’t ready; they needed a beat to reflect before the next big disaster. So I said bugger structure convention, and did what felt right for my story.
That’s definitely a confidence that comes with experience. For years I hid behind the false validation of: it’s definitely a good story! It’s got act breaks in the EXACT RIGHT PLACES! Now, I trust my own storytelling instincts enough to know it’s a good story no matter where my act breaks come.
That’s not to say I don’t think structure is important: what we call rules or formulas these days are really just beginnings, middles and ends, and very few stories work without them. I personally would struggle to get started without at least a rough idea of where I was going. In fact, quite often, I do those ‘story formula’ worksheets (they’re everywhere online) at the beginning of a process just to make sure my story idea has legs, and then I chuck that away and write from the gut.
And that is the plan for today!!