To plot or not to plot – that is the question

Are you a plotter or a panster? It’s a question that comes up time and time again on writing blogs. When I first started writing, I didn’t plot. There was a very good reason for this.

I didn’t have the faintest clue how to do it.

And so I wrote 4 books (and various complete rewrites of these books) with no attempt at plotting. They were all rubbish. I feel there may be a connection here somewhere. Fortunately, as time went on I learned about things like 3 act structure, I discovered Vogler and the joy of log lining, and I wrote a book which a publisher actually wanted to buy (and then another, and then another). When I see people say that they don’t plot at all, I wonder how honest they are being. Plotting doesn’t necessarily mean having every single scene planned out in minute detail before you start. For me, it means having the key scenes worked out so that I know roughly where I’m going. Not knowing exactly how I’m going to get there is part of the fun.

If a book is well plotted, the end of the book will be there in the first chapter, somewhere. For a fantastic example of this I recommend you all go and watch Monsters Inc. The black moment will be there too. Tangled has possibly the best black moment ever. Hero sacrifices himself to save the heroine! Hero is Chuck! Hero has the smoulder! Ok. I’ve finished now.

I think in some ways, plotting a book is a bit like sewing a dress. You can pounce on the fabric and start merrily snipping away without thinking about where you want to go. You might even end up with something wearable. You might also end up with a load of chopped up fabric and no dress.

But if you take a pattern (3 act structure) and you work out the repeat of the print on your fabric (GMC), and you position the pieces just right before you cut them, and you have some idea of the best way to put those pieces together before you start, you’ll most likely end up with something that works. At least, this works for me (being terribly left brained and logical).

Which leads me to shameless flaunting of my current project. Shouty print! 80’s peplum! There’s a pencil skirt to match. It’s the same pattern (New Look 6130) which Lauren used to make her silky blouse on Great British Sewing Bee. The eagle eyed amongst you will note that my version looks nothing like Lauren’s, which is the other thing to note about 3 act structure – no two people will ever make the same thing using it. This is not mass production. So don’t be afraid that it will make your writing formulaic or boring. It won’t. GetAttachment.aspx

So, now that I’ve outed myself as a plotter (and lover of unnecessarily loud fabric), how about you? To plot or not to plot?


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