Plot, pants or ping?

2016-06-20 14.11.18

Those light bulb moments – when you finally figure out how to get your character from point a to b – are rather marvellous, aren’t they? I’ve been lucky to have a few recently, which is useful as I’m at the plotting and planning stage. There’s been a lot of staring out of windows, ah-yes-that-could-happen realisations followed by scribbling in notebooks (yep, that nice pink one). But frequently, the ping! moment arrives out of nowhere when I’m doing something completely unrelated. And often, those pings are the best of the lot; they’re the pings that tie everything together.

The problem is, as wonderful and necessary as they are, the pings make me feel like everything’s a bit arbitrary and nebulous. They make me feel like I’m grabbing at wispy threads of ideas so gossamer and fragile that if I don’t hold on tight enough, I’ll never grasp them again.

Then comes the side panic: what if I hadn’t had that ping right then while I was reading about summer sandals or chopping up a cucumber? What if it hadn’t turned up and I’d kept going in that now obviously pointless direction where character 3 wasn’t the whole reason character 1 is having a crisis? What if I can’t trust the pings to happen? And, if pings come when I’m not trying, then what if they don’t come when I am?

Clearly I’m having a problem with my pings and my very much wanting to be in control when I can’t be.

I’m compensating in other ways. I’m being much more plotsy than in the past. I want to know how everything and everyone comes together right from the start. I don’t want too many unwelcome surprises once I start writing.

All this worry, uncertainty and plotting upside-downiness has me wondering what other writers do at this stage. Do the successful ones have a formula for outlining or do they plunge in, control-freakery be damned, hopeful for pings from every angle?

Jane Green feels she’s both plotter and pantser.

“I have the three parts of the plot before I start, and know the general arc of the story, although am always willing to let it go in a different direction once I start writing, and I then create the characters to tell that story,” she explains here.

Rowan Coleman seems to have a similar method, explaining in this interview, “I do plan a little more now than I used to, but not too much. I don’t want to avoid the possibility of killing the spontaneity.”

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling is probably the most plotty plotser I can think of and I’m both inspired and totally intimidated by her amazingly complicated and wonderful planning grid which can be seen here.

But amid all this neurosis and pinging, I’m very much enjoying getting to know my cast and story. I keep getting little flutters of delight when I start thinking about them/it. It’s a bit like having a crush: I’m all misty eyes and secret daydreams. Although my crushes seem to have a habit of transforming themselves which can be unexpected and irritating. One – who I didn’t even like initially – has revealed themselves to have a very kind heart, so that’s meant a whole shift in their baddie casting. Meanwhile, another character, who was only ever going to have a little bitty sub-plot, has revealed A Very Important Back Story, which has turned everything upside down.

Oh dear. More reasons to feel out of control… 

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