Can a SOTP Writer Become a Plotter?
If this is your first time visiting the blog, or if you haven’t visited in more than a week, be sure to click on the link to the right and learn how to enter my 500th Blog Post Contest and Giveaway for a chance to win one of five fabulous prizes! So far, only six people have entered the contest for the grand-prize drawing, so be sure to get your funny wedding story written and turned in!
I have always been a seat-of-the-pants writer, even well before I had ever heard that term. I almost never knew, beyond the fact that the hero and heroine are supposed to end up together, where my stories were going when I sat down to write them. With my first three manuscripts, I just sat down and wrote. Started with Chapter One and wrote straight through, discovering the story as I went along, being as surprised by the twists and turns the story took as if I were reading a book written by someone else.
Of course, that was before I started graduate school and learned all the ins-and-outs of plotting, character development/arc, story beats, and pacing. All of a sudden, there were elements of writing a story I kind of had to know before I could actually sit down and write one. Which is why my three manuscripts since then, Stand-In Groom, Ransome’s Honor, and Menu for Romance, have all taken me much longer to write, and have all required a couple of re-starts—because once I got into them, I found major holes in the stories or characters behaving in ways that didn’t lend to a good character growth arc.
A week or so ago, I pulled out the notebook containing the printed copy of my first complete manuscript—a six point-of-view romance/women’s fiction novel that I wrote in nine months following the first writing conference I attended. It’s the one where I practiced what I’d learned about limited POV and writing every day even when I didn’t feel like it. The amazing thing is that the story is strong, the main conflicts and plotlines are easily identifiable, and, even though the pacing suffers in places, the narrative drives toward the ending.
So why, over the last four years, have I had trouble repeating this process of just sitting down and writing a story?
Part of the difference is that I’d been “working with” the characters in What Matters Most for a couple of years before I started writing it. I’d started developing the lead female character, Bekka d’Arcement, and her four best friends several years before I figured out which of their stories I was going to write first. So I knew her quite well by the time I started writing. I knew less about the main male character, Andrew Blakeley, when I first started writing; but like Bekka, I got to find out his background and personal history as the novel moved along (which kept me from including too much backstory in the beginning of the novel). The other four POV characters were some I’d been working with for a while too.
So, in essence, even though I hadn’t been actually writing the manuscript for a couple of years, nonetheless, the story had still been in development for a couple of years. Same with the second book I wrote, which centered around another one of these five friends.
My third manuscript was an exercise in writing a contemporary-set tribute to my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion, so I already had a pretty good idea of which direction the story needed to go when I started writing. Even though I hadn’t come up with the characters but about a month before I started writing the stories, they were based on Anne and Frederick, so I knew them in essence.
Stand-In Groom, however, started from the fact that I didn’t like the storyline of a certain movie about a wedding planner who falls in love with a client. I wanted to tell the story of a wedding planner who falls in love but doesn’t break up her client’s wedding by stealing the groom. Unfortunately, it took me about a year and a half—and three versions of the first ten chapters—to figure out who my characters really were and what their conflicts were.
With Menu for Romance being a spinoff of SIG, you’d think it would be easier to write, right? Well . . . while Meredith and Major are secondary characters in SIG, they don’t have a significant on-page presence, so I didn’t really spend a lot of time with them. In fact, up until I realized I wanted Meredith to be the heroine of a spinoff novel and that Major was the guy she was going to end up with, he was actually married! But as I expanded his role a little bit, as he grew on me, I realized he was the perfect hero for Meredith. However, I still didn’t know that much about either of them when I started writing MFR.
Now that I’m facing a deadline to get this book written, I realize that winging-it isn’t going to suffice with this manuscript. So last night, I pulled out my big flip-chart pad and my copy of Billy Mernit’s Writing the Romantic Comedy and determined the seven story beats of Menu for Romance. I also started penciling in the ideas for conflicts I’ve had and brainstormed a few more.
Just like What Matters Most was an exercise in learning POV and how to finish a manuscript, Menu for Romance is going to be an exercise in determining if a dyed-in-the-wool seat-of-the-pants writer can become a plotter.