Plotting a Story 101: Completing Your Plot Outline
May 5, 2020
Hello there! It’s been a while. I have to apologize for not posting for SO LONG. I let life get in the way. Ironic, isn’t it, considering this last plotting post is all about finishing your plot outline!
I went back to full-time work in November and felt incredibly crunched for writing time. So, I let the blog fall away and focused only on my WIP. As much as I’ve gotten done over the past few months, I miss Indigo Typewriter! Now, with all the COVID-19 stuff going on, I’m spending a little more time at home and felt I should offer an explanation, and a promise.
My explanation is that I can be very selfish with my time, to my own detriment (seriously, I tend to live out of unfolded––but clean, I promise––laundry in baskets when I’m working on my book). Thankfully, I got a couple emails from WordPress about commenters, and it was enough to push me back into the waiting arms of Indigo Typewriter.
My promise to you is this: my posts won’t be as frequent as they used to be, but I will do my best to deliver one a month. We all need a little writer’s community, and I want Indigo Typewriter to be one of those communities.
Now, time to FINALLY finish our plotting edition of Planning for Pantsers. (See? I write my blog like I write my book––with a rough plan, a shoddy timeline, and no self-discipline! Ha!)
I know it was great for me to go back and relearn some of the things that helped me finish plotting in the first place, and I hope this series was helpful for you, too. But, before we say farewell to our plotting posts, I’d like to give you one final thought: if you want to finish this thing, you have to grab the bull by the horns.
I’ve said it before, but plotting is the hardest part of writing for me. It’s also very necessary. Pantser though I may be, my stories wander WAY too much when I don’t spend the time to plan beforehand. When I’m bogged down in plotting, I get overwhelmed and want to throw in the towel and just write, for Pete’s sake.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be tempted to quit halfway through the plotting process. Or, you’ll think, “Well, I’ve got my plot planned out far enough . . . I’ll just write and finish plotting later.” Don’t make my mistakes!
Facing the Plot Outline
I had the plot for my rewrites planned out to what some would call the introduction of the second act. And, bored with the plotting process, I decided it was time to go with my writerly desires, abandon plotting for the time being, and write my heart out.
The problem was that I love drafting too much. I simply didn’t want to go back to plotting. So, I kept writing through the end of the “first act,” and then, all at once, everything stopped. I didn’t know where I was going anymore. What needed to happen next? The following weeks became a stop and go process where I accomplished nothing and my frustration grew every day.
I knew I had to go through the plotting process again. But this time, I had to finish it, top to bottom, before I touched my rough draft.
So, every chance I got, I worked on the plot. When I needed a break, I worked on updating character and setting profiles that I’d let wallow in old versions. But I didn’t write a word.
After a month of mulling the plot over in my head, working on it in spurts, and avoiding it through character profiles, I finally got fed up with it. I was going to finish that plot outline if it took every ounce of writer’s strength I had.
Four days of staring at a computer screen, typing and deleting, moving around, and color coding so I could make some sense of my confusing thoughts, and I finally typed the last line of the plot.
During those four days, I didn’t touch a single character profile, any portion of my half-baked rough draft, or anything else to do with my WIP. If I was working on my book, I was plotting, and that was it. No questions asked. No excuses.
I’d like to sneak a quick word in here about why plotting is so important. You might have a different personality and be able to pants your way through a brilliant rough draft and send it off to a few well-chosen readers at once. I’m not like that. I’ve been deep in rewrites for a few months now. I looked at my plot outline only a couple of times because I knew it so well. And then, a few days ago, I got to a point where I didn’t.
For some reason, I get easily confused when I’m deep in writing. I know, it sounds silly, but it’s true. I think that’s part of why I’m a pantser by nature. But when I get to a certain point, I always forget where I’m going. That’s why it’s so crucial for me to have a roadmap.
For example, I recently finished up a chapter with one of those exciting scenes I’ve been looking forward to. Then, as the chapter closed and I opened up a new document for the following one, I realized I couldn’t write a word. Which scene needed to come next? Had I forgotten something? Had I left out some character development? Where was I going again?
I turned to my trusty, overly-detailed plot outline. And there it was. The next step, already planned and laid out.
Sure, I had made some minor scene placement adjustments from my original outline to the rough draft. I had discovered a couple of holes in the fabric of my plot, a character or two, and the setting and needed to adjust to stitch them up properly. I had changed a portion of the immediate backstory and the roles of a couple characters. Why? Because I can’t help it. And I’ve learned to go back a few pages or a chapter to fix something when I know it’s not right.
But in spite of all my fiddling with the structure and detail of my WIP, my plot outline was still there, and it still worked. I could move on rather than stay stuck in scene limbo, unsure which direction to take or whether I should scratch the whole thing and start again (never done THAT before). I had my map, and I’d cling to it like a lifeline.
The Faster You Finish the Plot Outline, the Sooner You Can Write
As someone who doesn’t enjoy the thought or the process of plotting, the only way I could get through the ordeal was just getting through it. Instead of running away, I had to face my plot.
So if, like me, you’re not a fan of plotting, motivate yourself to get through it by realizing that the faster and more thoroughly you do it, the quicker it’ll be over. You’ll be able to get to the fun part of writing––writing.
Grab the plot bull by the horns this week. I think you’ll be glad you did.