Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To Plot, or Not to Plot...

“…That is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous over thinking
Or to take arms against a sea of graphic organizers and tedious outlines…

…To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye there’s the creative process
For in that sleep of subconscious ideas, what dreams may come”

I don’t plot.  I just lied.  I don’t consciously plot.  I subconsciously plot.  Anyone who survived public school has ingested countless plotting tools such as Roman numeral outlines, story maps, flash cards with the word dénouement, and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. (Which I LOVE.)  Our gray matter is permanently stamped with format.   

I have tried the pre-planning route in my creative writing and I find it stifling.  I prefer a plethora of post-its smattered all over my mirrored closet door with scribbles of ideas I didn’t want to lose.  Do I use them all?  Nope.  Doesn’t matter.  They helped form the subconscious shape of my story. 

I love Stephen King’s take on plotting in his book, ON WRITING.  (I'm lamely paraphrasing Mr. King's phenomenal philosophy) He discusses setting a situation and then narrating how the characters handle it.  He doesn’t force them to follow a prescribed step-by-step plan, but rather lets the story organically evolve around character reactions and decisions as they navigate their situation.  In this style sometimes what you visualized happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

I say, WHAT FUN!  This is my cup of tea.

Okay, I know some of you are freaking out.  Too much freedom?  Too much unknown?  If it is – you need to be a conscious plotter.  No judgment here.  Every creative process has it’s own preferences.  The bottom line is to write the way that brings you that rush of joy and makes you shout, “I love doing this.”

Fess up.  Are you a conscious or subconscious plotter?

Treat yourself to these two books on writing: ON WRITING by Stephen King and RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY by Ron Carlson.  They are better than chocolate.  


  1. I'm a conscious plotter. For me, I need to know that all those plot points will come together and work as a story before I invest too much time in a storyline that might come undone. My outlining is casual, though, sometimes just written in a journal. But some form of it does exist.

  2. I'm a conscious plotter. While I do allow flexibility when I write, I still have to outline first. :D

  3. Hello Joanne and Stina. I was a conscious plotter for years until I tried Nanowrimo. Letting loose for the first time felt like being on a roller coaster. I was hooked on the high speed twists and turns. I admit between my first draft and revisions I map out the story more formally to find holes, and other boo boos. So I guess in truth, I'm a subconscious/conscious plotter.

  4. Yep, I am as organized as they come I guess. First, I write a multi-page summary of how I envision the story to go, beginning to end. Then I divide the story into three "acts." Finally, I outline chapter by chapter using a sentence or two to describe the jist of each. Finally, I start writing. Things sometimes change and morph as I go, but this way insead of rewriting entire chapters, I just make minor corrections to the outline. Also, I never stare at a blank page. I always know what I want to write when I sit down at the computer. No writer's block. No wasted time. It's just me - not for everyone of course.

  5. Okay Laurie, I think I just developed a case of conscious plotter envy.

  6. Awesome! I love it when someone else is just as demented as I am! Um, I mean I'm a subconscious plotter too. :D

  7. I"m a total plotter. I tried pantsing once and it was an epic failure. My creativity thrives on structure! Sometimes, I wish i could pants. Okay, I don't.

  8. I'm a plotter, but I keep it loose. I need to know where I'm going. If I pantsed it, I know I'd have a heap of yuck. I know ahead of time which plot points I want to hit, but I allow myself freedom. If things sway, then I adjust with it. I do need some structure.

  9. What? You Lisa, a subconscious plotter? Okay, I knew that! You validate me.

    Laura, you cracked me up with "epic failure." I must say I am quite familiar with that flavor of outcome.

    Julie, you had me at "heap of yuck." I must say as one of your critique partners, I see your spontaneity growing. Lisa and I will corrupt you yet.

  10. I'm trying to become more of a conscious plotter. I've usually kinda plotted and somewhere along the way gotten excited and given up and just winged it. This time I'm trying to really plot and focus my WIP by doing pitches, synopses and a complete list of scenes before I jump into the draft... Feel free to check in a couple weeks to see if I stuck to it though

  11. Noble ambitions, Wendy. I salute you!

  12. I'm definitely a subconscious plotter ( or panster) and I love it. I love the freedom my characters have to grow and explore. (I also do tons of notes on scraps of paper!) :)

  13. Yay, TK! One more for the pantser team. May I suggest the multi-color jumbo post-it pack from Costco.