Hoo boy. Plot. There’s a theory out there, put forth by Stephen King and others, that separates the way people write plots. One type is the Builder. They write outlines, sketch in the important details, and move on with their story. Generally, those books are well structured and written quicker than most. They know where every plot device and twist will fall, what the characters are doing, and why. I’d mentioned Brandon Sanderson before – he’s a well-known Builder. His books are easy to read (nothing wrong with that), well thought out, and everything has a clear reason and motivation. He’s also nearly as prolific as King. And we know Building works – a lot of Builders are also best-sellers. I am not one of those people.
I meant to do that.
I fall into the second category – what King calls a Gardener, and the Internet refers to as a Pantser. I’ve found (for me at least) that outlining and plotting and planning makes for a very boring write. I’ve also found that rarely does the plot or a character do what I had planned for them anyway, and halfway through writing, I’ll stop, look at my outline, and then throw it away because I’ve veered so far off course the only way to complete the work is to let the story do what it’s going to do, and just hang on. That’s fun for me. I like not knowing where things are headed until I’m encroaching on a paragraph and my brain shouts ‘Surprise!’.
That’s not to say it’s all chaos. I do tend to write down major events in the story before I start, and characters. I generally already know where things are going to end up, and how they start. It’s the journey in between that I enjoy. While I write, I keep an eye on those notes through the story and ask myself am I close to hitting this story beat yet, or is this how this character would handle this plot development? If the answer is yes, hoorah, milestone. If not, hoorah, more story to surprise me.
The downside is that sometimes I get stuck. At times I’ll find myself in a corner, surrounded by paint, and wonder how I got there. Then I have to step back, read parts I’ve written, and make connections. A lot of times those connections will end up threading together and pulling the story out of the painted corner. Other times, I need to go back and make those connections so I can throw the story a rope. But, the truth of the matter for me is this: it never gets boring.
That’s the important part. If your story is boring you, it’s going to bore other readers as well. It’s not a matter of if you built or gardened, or if you’re hitting every beat on the Hero’s Journey. It’s a matter of if you can keep yourself engaged, and by extension, your readers. For me, that means letting the words do what they will. It’ll be different for you, of course. But hopefully, it’ll be fun.
Here We Go.