Saturday, February 13, 2010

To plot or not?

This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. Whether it's better to plot a story or not before making the commitment to sit down for months, maybe years, and come up with a story.

My usual technique is to start with a character - one that's a little sketchy to begin with - one that interests me - and write. Slowly, their desires and fears and problems are revealed, and only then can I step back and let them take their own journey. I know where they're starting from and roughly where they'll end up, but the rest is up to them. Eeeek I hear some of you saying, and rightly so. This method of writing has its pitfalls. The 'not knowing' can make us question what we're doing, and when we do get to the end, will it be worthwhile? Will the story be one that others want to read?

Some writers argue it's better to formulate a plot. Why waste time meandering along without purpose? Better to know that first the character does this, followed by that, and so it goes. My intuition tells me that following a 'step by step recipe' like this constrains not only the writer, but the character too. Because only once the story gets rolling and we've begun to explore who the character is, can we know how he or she will behave when they're thrown into the action. Our plotting might be telling us that Conrad will fight the shark when it grabs his arm in the surf - when we've come to realise that actually, Conrad is a wimp, and he'd never beat a shark with his bare fists. He'd swim like hell! I've read books where characters weren't quite believable, and it's rare that I stuck around to see how it all ended.

When it comes down to it, we're all different. Some of us a are planners and some of us aren't. The best holidays I've ever had weren't planned out minute by minute. Just like the way I write, I knew where the holiday would begin and I knew where it would for the rest...I went where the wind blew me.