Thursday, June 21, 2012

To plot or not to plot, that is the question. Or that is a question.

INFINITE SKY began almost entirely without a plot. It also took over two years to write, which is quite a long time for what is a fairly slight novel. I don't think this is a coincidence. Those first few months of writing were a sort of blind exploration, done in the company of other writers on an MA at the University of East Anglia, and pretty much none of that blind exploration made it into the final draft. Which isn't to say it wasn't useful.

Second time round, everything was different. This unwritten book was already sold. It had a deadline. Cue panic on a never-before-seen-scale. Not knowing any better, I began the blind exploration again. My head was empty after letting go of the first book, but I thought I had no time to waste. I must get started!

In six months I wrote 70,000 words, none of which will make it into the book. I shifted protagonist three times! This was hard to accept at first. All those words becoming instantly back story or background? But how could I have found my lovely protagonist without the flailing? Not by plotting, I'm sure.

It seemed like total chaos, and was uncomfortable to go through to say the least, but all the characters I dicovered in this period have made it into the book. Sometimes two or three characters have been merged into one as recommended by the talented storytellers at Pixar but they made it. What's more, they are all very different, due to being essentially from different books. And in the end, I couldn't be happier with the protagonist I discovered last. I am so excited to tell you her story.

So far, so good. But. Book three, I plan to spend a good few months reading and living and refilling Inspiration Central before I begin. Then blind flailing can commence. Because it seems to be important. It forms the background of the story, and gives you a whole host of characters and histories and themes to get confused about over the next months. But perhaps 70,000 words is a little excessive.

All of this is not to say I don't plot at all. I just plot late, or when I'm stuck. When there seem tooooo many threads to ever make a coherent story I turn to drawing diagrams and trying to visualise said threads outside my tiny head. I use a mixture of plotting and making it up as I go along, but with the emphasis on the latter.

How about you? Are you a plotter or a blind explorer? Is it even possible to be strictly one thing or the other? Like everything else in life, I suspect not.