Sunday, April 2, 2017

Early Stages - Who Should Help You Plot?

In keeping with our story-writing theme - last week we talked about how much space to give to the denouement - our topic at the SFF Seven this week focuses on the Early Stages of Plot Development. Do we work alone, with critique partner, developmental editor, or in a round-table group.

My answer is that this has changed dramatically for me over the course of my writing career - and it can vary by book. Plus, just recently I've done something Totally New, which isn't even on that list.

First off, for anyone who *doesn't* know this about me - though I'm not sure how that's possible since I feel like it's a big neon sign over my author-hatted head - I don't pre-plot. I'm going to make that distinction, pre-plotting vs. plotting. In some genre communities, people are given to calling writers either plotters or pantsers. A "pantser" is someone who is perceived as writing "by the seat of their pants," a description that simply oozes with pre-plotter panic to my mind. The way I write feels nothing like what it seems many imply with it - that there's somehow no plan at all.

Interestingly, there are myriad definitions for that phrase. It turns out that it's early aviation parlance. Aircraft initially had few navigation aids and flying was accomplished by means of the pilot's judgment. It meant "going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries." In our analogy, I suppose the instruments, etc., would be an outline of the story. As far as the idiom is concerned, I found this definition very interesting: "To use one's judgment, initiative, and perceptions as events unfold in order to improvise a course of action without a predetermined plan."

Now, that last *does* feel like how I write. I don't feel like I can plot a book before I write it because I don't know how events will unfold. And I do trust in my writer's instincts and the skills I've honed over time to make those judgments as the story goes. Several of the definitions used the word "intuition," which I think is spot on.

I don't really think my stories through, I intuit them.

I have a critique partner (and good friend) that I talk through stories with a great deal. She's very much a thinker. She plots out the stories ahead of time and is always asking me questions like what is my heroine's goal or her internal wound. I inevitably get irritated by these questions - not that I don't know the answers, but that I can't articulate them. They are feelings to me, not easily definable in a few words. That said, this friend is great at helping me figure out my stories. I can tell her "Oh, my heroine is like this, and her mother is this way, but the hero is this other thing to her - so what would happen if...?" And she has great answers. I don't always use her ideas, but they do help to guide me.

I seem to work best that way, brainstorming what my characters might do, talking it through with one or two other people. I love to do it with other people's stories, too.

Just recently, however, I got to do something new and very fun. Last week I announced that I have signed with a new agency, Nancy Yost Literary Agency, and that I'll be working with Sarah Younger there. I couldn't announce this change immediately, as the contract with my former agency asked for 30-days notice. But, until Sarah could officially act as my agent, we discussed several projects I had in mind as possibles. She picked one as her favorite - and as the most marketable at the moment - and gave me some ideas to think about. What she gave me helped crystallize the project and injected it with life. Which is so much what I was hoping working with her would be like!

This is an aspect of working with an agent that I think some writers, especially those exclusively in self-publishing, perceive as being "told what to write." It doesn't feel like that at all. Instead it's a "wouldn't it be cool IF" scenario. Agents are passionate about books, by definition, and widely read. The right agent can bring fantastic perspective to a proposed project.

But, and this is key, whoever a writer talks to in the early stages of a story has the power to profoundly affect the direction of it. Or even to kill it with careless criticism. Choose those people with utmost care, for a new story is precious and fragile. Don't hand that baby to just anyone.