Monday, April 11, 2011


For too many years I didn't bother with actively and deliberately plotting my stories. Instead i allowed them to grow organically, sometimes going in unexpected directions, often wandering away from the point of the story, and occasionally diverting the characters into doing something different than intended.

The not unexpected result of this sort of garbage collecting was that I wasted considerable time editing and rewriting, often throwing out pages of perfectly good narrative and dialogue that had nothing to do with the purpose of the story. Much of this effort was spent moving blocks of words about to achieve the best possible order.  It was usually the third or fourth draft that achieved some semblance of plot.

My relentless pursuit of plot drove me to develop all manner of tools - outlines, sketches, copying plots from other stories, and even developing standard outlines for mysteries, drama. etc.  For novellas I even cut the printed pages into scenes, spread them on a table, and rearranged them to the order they story needed before taping them together, going back to the computer and cutting and pasting once more.

Along the line I developed the concept of scene theory (see some of my older blogs) as wrote software to help me structure my stories. These ranged from Hypercard, several relational databases ending with FileMaker Pro.  Finally, thanks to Charlie Stross, I discovered Scivener and have been using it as my primary compositional and writing tool ever since.

What I finally realize is that Plotting involves more than simply sequencing reasonably well-written scenes into a certain order. The essence of Plotting is making the story seem "real" to the reader - verisimilitude, in other words e.g. written dialogue is NOT the way people talk.   A good plot requires that there are dramatic high points that capture the reader's interest and explicitly demonstrate character. A good plot makes the reader continually ask "What happens next?" and turn the page.  A good plot carries the narrative along despite the quality of the writing.

And I'm still struggling to find out how to do that.

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