David Farland recently addressed plotting on his "daily kick in the pants."
"We often begin a story with very little in mind—a powerful image from a dream, a play on words overheard during a conversation, an emotion that we want to capture, a clever idea for a twist. As these ideas begin to stack up, we begin to form a story.
"I often feel that the ideas that give me the genesis of a story are like pieces to a puzzle—a puzzle that I will create. Yet when I first imagine them, I only glimpse parts of a complete image—a flash of blue sky here, the eye of a monster there, a mouse in a meadow.
"As I imagine the story piece by piece, a novel eventually takes shape. But I want to emphasize that for me, at least, books don't "take shape" by accident."
The plots (yes, there are more than one) of a novel, as Farland explains, are not step-by-step assembly instructions for your prose, they are the road maps that help you remember where you're going while still leaving plenty of room to discover new and better things about your story along the way.
"But I have a confession here to make. I don't plot my whole story and then write it all thereafter, at least not in most cases. Some people like to pre-plot a novel, but I find a lot of joy in “discovery writing,” making some things up as I go.
"Years ago, I wrote a Star Wars novel where I had to create the plot and sell the book based on an outline. I had a lot of fun outlining the novel, but halfway through I realized that composing it felt too much like real work—like digging fence-post holes or working on an assembly line. I'd had all of my fun up front, in creating the outline, and thus the writing became drudgery. So I don't write strictly by plot anymore. Instead, I will have a vague notion of how my novel will end. I then sit down and outline the first 1/3 of my novel, write it; outline the next third, write it; and then outline and write to the end."
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Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. This article is from Sustainable Creativity: How to Enjoy a Committed, Long-term Relationship with your Muse. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.