This article is #6 in a rolling blog tour. For the previous entry, please see Ryder Islington’s post on plotting. The details on all the participants are at the bottom of this post.
Plotting by the Seat of Your Pants, or Me and Mr. King
What kept me from even beginning my first novel was the big, bad PLOT. My characters were developed and tapping their feet with impatience. They had names, quirky habits, insane personalities, and so much nerve they frightened me. The setting was so clear, I was almost blinded by the scenery. But figuring out what would happen, chapter by chapter, was impossible.
When I first started writing mysteries, I didn’t know where to begin. I’d already published three nonfiction books, several articles, and some science material for an educational publishing company. All these projects required a detailed outline in order to keep on track. But trying to outline fiction was like trying to pinch a butterfly. So I took the advice of a writing instructor, who told me to just write the story. It worked. My characters took over.
And I got lucky once. My husband and I were lost in the country. We backtracked and ended up on a road called “Murderers Row.” By the time we found our way back to civilization, the plot for a new mystery had formed. Don’t ask me how it happened, it just did.
After five novels, however, I continued to hear that devil in my head, telling me I was doing it all wrong. Then I read Stephen King’s book, A Memoir of the Craft–On Writing (the best book on writing I’ve ever read), and guess what? That great novelist does not plot his stories. “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible,” King wrote. “It’s best that I be as clear as I can—I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of a writer is to give them a place to grow.”
I realize that non-plotting doesn’t work for everyone; but for me, watching the plot unfold, often at my characters’ discretion, is the most enjoyable part of writing mysteries. Of course, after the first draft is complete, I go back and tighten the story.
So I can honestly say that Stephen King and I have something in common. No, I don’t make millions, but if he can plot by the seat of his pants, so can I.
Stay tuned for our next rolling blog on Wednesday. We' chat about Writer's Block. Writer John Hines will begin the blog with his words of wisdom.