Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Organic plotting

Recently, I've put a lot of thought into plot structure. I have most of Dead Gorgeous, but there's this...gray area that won't come in, no matter how hard I squint. I had the same problem with Hot Contract, and I think it's because some plot elements don't come into focus until ninety nine percent of the WIP is written.

In other words--it's a by-product of layering.

For some reason I thought I'd heard the phrase "organic plotting", but every time I looked for it, it was more like a riff on organic writing, which is a nice way of saying, "hey--I'm a pantser."

I started out as a pantser, moved to plotting, and being the totally anal retentive person I am--spent a lot of time researching why plots worked and in what circumstances. Plot is important to stories that have to go somewhere. Tech-thrillers. Mysteries. Psychological suspense? In other words--books where every thread needs to go over and under in exactly the right space, because otherwise--you get holes.

Organic plotting, on the other hand, might as well be called "structured plotting", because it's a cross between flying by the seat of your pants and filling in a twenty page outline. Many character driven novels are organically plotted. Not pantsed, but organically plotted. There's a difference.

Plotting is pre-work, and organic plotting is work that happens in the polishing process. ie? If you have a story where the hero--pstd, overly controlled, bad background ends up in circumstances that trigger one or more of his character traits, you automatically get plot points where the guy acts a certain way, or consciously fights the desire to act a certain way. But until you put your hero in exactly that circumstance, it's hard to tell what he'll do. It's obvious, but not until after the fact.

Not pantsing, because a well constructed hero can only act true to his nature. And not character arc. Character arc is how your character reacts and changes over the course of the story. If your character sleeps through the book, it's not going to be interesting. Something has to happen. Something unique and tailored specifically to this character.

The way this boomerangs is when well meaning writers force a plot on characters who wouldn't logically be there if they were being true to themselves.

Say you want your hero to stand his ground, despite all odds, rescue his lady love from the villain, drop to his knees in a burst of old fashioned chivalry and ask the girl to marry him. What'd you do to create this guy? Is he hot? What does hot have to do with the internal characteristics your hero needs to act in the only way he "can" act? You start from the ground up with a guy who is physically active, read Le Mort d'Arthur as a kid and believes, way down deep inside, he's a knight errant.

I've seen a lot of writers get stuck because their GMC is off, or the plot says point C happens here, and the guy isn't getting in line. Most of the time people won't even admit they "have" a goal or that the goal changes halfway through the novel. It is pantsing within the overall external framework to the point of a logical progression of facts, but also filling in holes like a drywall expert in the second layer.

edited to add:

Three years later, and I'm still working on organic plotting. If you're interested in more on this, I'd suggest the side links to "organic structure parts 1-4"  "chaos theory for character-driven stories" and "too much plot parts 1-4".

Thanks for dropping by. :)

12 comments:

Jeanna said...

You mean flying by the seat of your pans, rather than a fan of crappie and bluegill?

Jeanna said...

Cheez, I meant "pants" although I like the thought of flying pans.

jodi said...

hey now, I like crappie if we're thinking of the same kind of fish. Small, bony and you got to eat a lot of them to make a meal?

(I like flying pans, too.) but I know what you mean. It's the curse of the "Too Fast Finger" :)

Jeanna said...

And the too slow brain.
Yeah, pan fish can be worth choking to death. It's all I caught back when I didn't mind fishing. A lllonnng time ago. I'm such a wuss. Funny, one of my neighbors went out, killed a deer with her husband, and is now making jerky.
Yesterday I ate old Pillsbury frosting from the can.

jodi said...

uhm, that's either disgusting, Jeanna...or a very good idea depending on how old it was, lol. I like the chocolate fudge and the german chocolate in the can. :)The cream cheese one tastes a little funny.

deanna said...

I like the developing of the character's nature (or at least instinctively knowing it, like if you're doing nonfiction or a character based on a real person?). That makes sense. (Personally, I think it's what God does, and that's why we can choose freely, but we can't go against the individual nature God created. In either case, makes for an intriguing story.)

Jeanna said...

put your money on disgusting
Word ver is: cryingli
She cryingli ate a three month old can of frosting.

Alice Audrey said...

Three months is nothing, Jeanna. Mind you, I've never had the stuff survive in the house that long, but I'm sure it was still sweet.

jodi said...

cryingli. hmmm...I like it. She cryingli went to work and school.

Deanna, I agree with you. People should be true to their inherent nature. Free will. yes. That should be a post in itself. I think you'd do a great and lyrical one. :)

Alice, old, stale sweet frosting. :)

Jeanna said...

It was in pretty good shape, Alice. Not really stale, Jodi, which is frightening. And there are two more cans waiting to be violated.
There's a sort of Catholic guilt thing going on with the frosting. (Should have made my own, off the health wagon, how lazy can you get—much, much, lazier—etc.)
Excellent use of the word "cryingli" Jodi.

Unhinged said...

Leave it to Jeanna to somehow squeeze food/sweets into a comment...

And dang, now I'm hungry for fresh fish. Haven't had that in forever.

GMC=gray matter character?

But I know exactly what you're saying about being able to write better, stronger, more logically, when you fully understand who your character is. I'm much better at characterization than plotting.

My verification word, FYI, is oryork.

Andi oryorked all the way back from the disgusting public restroom.

(And isn't it disturbing how I always manage to squeeze in a bathroom-related comment?)

Kaige said...

I like the organically plotted idea. Makes me think of those pebble-filled eco-friendly hydroponic planters my aunt used to sell in the 70s.

Seriously though, I think that's why I like to plot and do so much pre-writing stuff. I really like when my characters surprise me by doing the obvious thing for them in a scene.