No Plot Can Be A Problem

I realize haven’t written anything about writing here in a little while. I suppose part of that is that I’ve become creatively unmotivated in that particular area. Between writing for this blog and the ocassional Boston Zed Heads post, I find myself drifting to things other than writing in my down time, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why that is. My friend Anna spends as much time as possible writing, and loves every minute of it. Granted I know myself well enough to know that I have so many interests that there’s no hope just one will capture my interest consistently, but still, my productivity in writing had gone way down, and I’ve been at a loss to come up with why.
Until just now that is.
As I was sitting here thinking about why I don’t feel like writing, I realized it stems from a deep rooted problem. I am absolutely terrible at writing plots. That’s not to say that the plots in what I do write aren’t interesting and don’t seem to flow pretty well. However, I simply cannot sit down ahead of time and say, “hey, this is the story I want to tell.”
When I sit down to write, I usually have a vague idea of what kind of feel I want the story to have, and I’ll start coming up with a cast of interesting characters. Then, I’ll put one or more of them in some sort of interesting setting, and let them take over, and just sit back and record what they do. This is acutally a lot of fun for me, and I feel like it captures more what I enjoy about life and reading other novels. The characters get to adress what’s going on with them right now, and let that carry them forward as their life progresses around them.
I do tend to respond more to that when I’m reading. I often find myself looking at books that have a ton of plot and whose authors seems content to just throw their characters through it at as high a rate as possible, and thinking, “man, but you missed so much.” On the other hand, you can only read so many novels where it’s just a bunch of people going about their daily lives and looking deeper in to the human condition before you start to go cross-eyed.
I think there’s a healthy balance to be struck there. I know I need to work on creating characters that have firmer goals and aspirations, and circumstances for the world my characters live in that drive them to do things that don’t necessarily break their character, but strain them nearly to their breaking point. However, the problem is coming up with that at the beginning to motivate myself to write.
It takes a significant amount of effort to put a cast and setting together enough to do write the way I do, and I never know if I’ll even get anything out of it on the other side. I don’t write mostly because I don’t have a rediculously cool story to tell. When I do right, it’s mostly to explore possibilities and see what a character might do in that circumstance. Yes, this can be very interesting, but the temptation to pick up a guitar or go take photographs or, god forbid, socialize, tends to win out these days.
So, now I turn it over to you. If you fancy yourself a writer, how to do you approach starting a story? Do you have a plot in mind or do you just see where your mind takes you? How much planning do you do, and how much does having a story to tell motivate you to sit down and write?
Sound off people!
– B

I realize haven’t written anything about writing here in a little while. I suppose part of that is that I’ve become creatively unmotivated in that particular area. Between writing for this blog and the occasional Boston Zed Heads post, I find myself drifting to things other than writing in my down time, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why that is. My friend Anna spends as much time as possible writing, and loves every minute of it. Granted I know myself well enough to know that I have so many interests that there’s no hope just one will capture my interest consistently, but still, my productivity in writing had gone way down, and I’ve been at a loss to come up with why.

Until just now that is.

As I was sitting here thinking about why I don’t feel like writing, I realized it stems from a deep rooted problem. I am absolutely terrible at writing plots. That’s not to say that the plots in what I do write aren’t interesting and don’t seem to flow pretty well. However, I simply cannot sit down ahead of time and say, “hey, this is the story I want to tell.”

When I sit down to write, I usually have a vague idea of what kind of feel I want the story to have, and I’ll start coming up with a cast of interesting characters. Then, I’ll put one or more of them in some sort of interesting setting, and let them take over, and just sit back and record what they do. This is actually a lot of fun for me, and I feel like it captures more what I enjoy about life and reading other novels. The characters get to address what’s going on with them right now, and let that carry them forward as their life progresses around them.

I do tend to respond more to that when I’m reading. I often find myself looking at books that have a ton of plot and whose authors seems content to just throw their characters through it at as high a rate as possible, and thinking, “man, but you missed so much.” On the other hand, you can only read so many novels where it’s just a bunch of people going about their daily lives and looking deeper in to the human condition before you start to go cross-eyed.

I think there’s a healthy balance to be struck there. I know I need to work on creating characters that have firmer goals and aspirations, and circumstances for the world my characters live in that drive them to do things that don’t necessarily break their character, but strain them nearly to their breaking point. However, the problem is coming up with that at the beginning to motivate myself to write.

It takes a significant amount of effort to put a cast and setting together enough to do write the way I do, and I never know if I’ll even get anything out of it on the other side. I don’t write mostly because I don’t have a rediculously cool story to tell. When I do right, it’s mostly to explore possibilities and see what a character might do in that circumstance. Yes, this can be very interesting, but the temptation to pick up a guitar or go take photographs or, god forbid, socialize, tends to win out these days.

So, now I turn it over to you. If you fancy yourself a writer, how to do you approach starting a story? Do you have a plot in mind or do you just see where your mind takes you? How much planning do you do, and how much does having a story to tell motivate you to sit down and write?

Sound off people!

– B

Note: The title of this post is a reference to a book by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) founder Chris Baty. If you don’t know anything about NaNoWriMo, go learn about about right now, and then please pick up a copy of Chris Baty’s “No Plot, No Problem”. It’s an excellent guide to getting through the crazy endeavor of writing a first draft of a novel in a month.

4 thoughts on “No Plot Can Be A Problem

Add yours

  1. Most of my short-stories are plot free, and I’ve written a few other things without a real story when I got going. It can be tricky. I find the best thing to do is lay out a little of the starting ground work, and then figure out something you want to happen later – a confrontation, a monologue, a realization – and spend the novel working toward that point. It helped me out a lot in Divine – it’s sort of like when you go for a walk or a hike, and you set milestones for yourself via buildings and things. Helped me, anyway.

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  2. instead of letting the plot happen in real time, I let it happen in a sort of outline. I’ll put down a dozen or so panels on a few pieces of paper and write general checkpoints on all of them that start to form a story arch. Then I write, making sure to hit each of the checkpoints. They often end up serving as individual scenes anyways.

    That is, this is how I’m going about writing right now.

    But even then… in my head as I’m working on my current project I was thinking this same thing… and wanting to try to develop a more plot-based story then character based story. Next time, perhaps.

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  3. I typed of a response but it didn’t take for some reason and i’m too lazy to retype it out again. So i’ll just summarize: “I had the same discussion with myself a few days ago. I’ve recently started writing a novel in the fashion of NaNoWriMo, just sort of on my own time, and my story is character driven. I would like to (already thinking ahead to my next project) try my hands at a plot driven one. Right now I try to outline the scenes on paper with boxes and notes, that take on the general shape of a story arch, and kind of treat these boxes as checkpoints hitting them as I write. I just blogged briefly about it this tangentially today: http://www.adamsimone.com/words

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