I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. ~ Stephen King
I like Stephen King’s quote here, largely because it justifies my own sad inability to plot. Well, I don’t totally lack the ability, I’m just not very good at it. I envy those who, like JK Rowling, saw the entire span of her storyline unfold with perfect clarity, from the very get-go. What must that be like? I rarely know what’s going to happen paragraph by paragraph. I am like a climber rose that someone forgot to provide with a trellis, so I just meander all over the place.
In an effort to discipline myself, I bought some how-to books. I even read them. You may be familiar with some titles: Twenty Master Plots, The Writer’s Journey, First Draft in 30 Days, Scene & Structure, and Beginnings, Middles & Ends. The one I found the least helpful is First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen S. Wiesner. This book may be exactly what many writers need, but it was too cerebral for me. Formats, outlines, daily goals, worksheets, timelines. I do some of this on my own as I write, when I organically need it, but I find I can spend all day filling out detailed character worksheets (What kind of clothes does she wear? What kind of job does she have? If she was a dog breed, what dog breed would she be? This is fun!) and forget to do any actual writing.
A last point I’d like to make about plotting is that the subject tends to come up as an either-or: Either you are someone who writes the way King does, making it all up as you go along; or you are someone who comes up with a complete outline before you type a word of story. I don’t think too many people really fit these extremes. Although I’m more a seat-of-the-pants writer, I find that after about 100 pages of happily pounding at the keyboard in an undisciplined manner, I start to see an actual story emerge, with a possible endpoint. At this point I really need to do a little outlining: not because it’s The Rule, but because I feel compelled to. I set up a couple ways the story might go, in summary, and see how I feel about each. Then I have that trellis on which to twine the next 100 pages. This also helps me identify what major scenes I’ll need to get the story told, to get my main characters from the beginning of the story to the end.
How do you work? Do you agree with King about plot, or are you a meticulous plotter-aheader? Where did you get your ideas about story plotting?