To Plot or Not to Plot? (I Never Do)

Currently Listening To: Chandelier, by Sia


Plotting and I have a love-hate relationship. Actually, no. We don’t. That’s a terrible way to describe it. I hate plotting. I’m very bad at it. I don’t like to sit down and think through the entire story and figure out where it’s going to go. I’ve tried it, and something about it just doesn’t work for me.

Instead, half the time, I don’t know what story I’m even telling until I’ve written 30 pages of a manuscript. By then, I’ve got a sense of who my characters are and what the world is that they’re inhabiting. Once I get that nailed down, I can figure out where the story is in all of that. It’s like carving something out of a slab of marble: the sculpture is in there there entire time, and it’s just a matter of chipping away the excess and finding what’s hiding inside.

So I write and I ramble and ramble until I can see the plot hidden in amongst the nonsense. Then I trim away the nonsense.

But the moment I attempt to actually outline a plot for anything–whether that’s a short story, a poem, or a full-length novel–there’s nothing. I can get maybe the beginning, or maybe I know something that’ll happen in the middle…and that’s it.

Instead, my manuscripts end up looking something like this:


Once upon a time, there was a character, who lived in a place, etc. etc. [ADDMORE LATER]

Then I ignore all that beginning stuff and start writing some kind of scene that popped into my head, sometimes including characters I have not named or even quite fleshed out as far as what their role in the story is. So I keep writing the scene, adding other things in brackets like [CHARACTERNAME] or [WHATEVER THEY’RE HERE FOR] and I keep chugging along until I get to the end of the scene and I either don’t know what’s coming next or don’t feel like writing what comes next, so we get another handy-dandy set of brackets! Like so: [CHARACTERNAME LEAVES. THE OTHERS HEAD TO WHATEVERPLACE. SOMEONE GETS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING(OR WHATEVER I DECIDE NEEDS TO HAPPEN)]

And then I skip ahead to the next scene I think of.


Basically, my manuscript has more holes than Swiss cheese for most of the creative process. And then I jump around in the manuscript, adding some scenes I skipped or tweaking what I’ve already written. I fill some holes, while others just…shrink a little. The ones that shrink sometimes get to the point where I’ve got to think of just a few sentences to stitch together the pieces, and they’re sometimes the toughest to fill. Sometimes I know that I’m actively skipping “the boring bits”, or neglecting important moments for some characters purely so I can jump ahead to a character I want to write more. It’s largely illogical and it makes it nearly impossible to find out just how much progress I’ve made and how much I still need to make before the project is finished. But that’s how I do it.

And anyone who gets a peek at any of my manuscripts thinks I’m an absolute lunatic. Maybe I am.


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