Plotting vs. Pantsing

When I wrote Commodork (my first self-published book), I had no idea what I was doing. And although I hadn’t had a lick of training, I did have a pretty good sense of story. Before I started writing I made a list of all the stories I wanted to tell in the book. Then I wrote the titles of all those stories out on index cards, sorted them into piles, and put the piles in an order that made sense to me. The piles ultimately became my chapters.

Of course, my cards didn’t contain every single detail — in fact, they were quite the opposite. Some of them simply contained a phrase to remind me a story (“the Toys ‘R Us printer incident”), while others had a bit more information. Of course that was non-fiction, and it’s fiction we’re talking about here.

In class this past week we learned that a novel needs around 20 story events. Story events are the things that take place in your novel that affect your protagonist. Our professor explained that there’s a difference between incidents (things that happen but don’t affect the characters) and events. Incidents don’t move your characters along in the story; events do. Obviously, a story with more than 20 story events will be longer while one with less will be shorter.

I, like a lot of wanna-be writers, have previously started writing stories only to reach a few thousands words, stop, and wonder… what now? If that has happened to you, or you’re afraid of spending days (or weeks or months) only to end up with a story that stalls out or goes nowhere, coming up with a list of plot events can help you plan out the major events of your novel before you start writing. Unless you’re Stephen King. If you’re Stephen King you just come up with some crazy idea for a story (“Howz about an alien that looks like a car?”), bangs it out on a typewriter, and signs his own checks. If you’re Stephen King, you can do that. If you’re anyone else, plotting in advance is a pretty good idea.

And now, a plug. Our professor just published a new book called The Fantasy Fiction Formula, now available on Amazon. The book covers a lot of what we’re covering in class this semester (and more), so if you’re serious about wanting to write a novel, this is the book to own. If it contains 1/10th of the amount of information we have gleaned from sitting in her classroom, I highly recommend it. If you would like some references you can also check out some of the 40 or so books she has published as well.

Anyway, back to story events. Before writing my synopsis, I sat down and came up with a list of story events for my book. At first, I started writing them as if I were writing the novel itself:

– In a fit of rage, Skip, our protagonist, attacks the bartender and knocks him unconscious.

After a while though, they began to look like this:

– Skip tries to steal boat. It explodes.

Not quite as exciting, but it got the job done. When I was finished, I walked away and let everything simmer for a while. I want to write more about simmering tomorrow.

If you have anything you would like to hear me write about, drop me an email or respond to one of my posts and I’ll see what I can do.

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