Plotting on the fly

As you can see from the icon to the right, I’m chugging right along with my NaNoWriMo novel, Psyched to Death…in spite of changing the dead guy AND the killer along the way. 🙂 Sometimes these things just have to be done. Today at lunch, talking with my writing partner, I worked out the ending. It’s always good to know how it’s going to wrap up.

We had a discussion in our writing group yesterday about plot vs. character, and how writing each of those works for each of us. We all write such different things – one writes superhero novels, one writes sci-fi screenplays, one writes literary fiction, one writes (and produces) short films that are slice-of-life stories, one writes erotic romance, one writes vampire stories – and then there’s me and my Jamie stories. Because we were talking about the subject, I did some thinking about the way I plot my stories.

I start with a concept. What would happen if Jamie stumbled across a case of murder connected with academic plagiarism? What would happen if a medieval book was stolen and a blackmailer was murdered? What would happen if the body of a dead student was found in Pete’s department? I usually write the first few scenes first. After that, I may jump around some. Sometimes I know that a particular thing has to happen at some point, and I’ll write that scene, but I’m not sure yet what happens just before that. I don’t always write in order, although I try to maintain some semblance of it.

I need to know pretty early on who the murderer is (or, in the case of Burdened to Death, why Mark killed himself), and what the motive is. That makes it much easier to figure out how to catch the murderer, and before that, how Jamie is going to figure out who the murderer is. It also makes it easier to choose red herrings.

I also need to know what aspect of Pete and Jamie’s relationship I’m going to explore. I don’t need to know how that will unfold, because – this may sound crazy – but Pete and Jamie will tell me that along the way.

I don’t outline. I do sometimes use timelines to figure out on which day something has to happen, especially if the action has to all take place in a week or some other short period of time. I’ve tried to outline, though, and the books usually change so much as I go that I don’t find an outline useful.

For the book I’m writing now, the victim has changed (not a student, but a professor’s boyfriend), the crime scene has changed (not the psych department, but the professor’s home), and the killer has changed (not saying any more about that!). Each time that happens it means that I have to go back through and make sure what I’ve already written matches the new victim/location/killer. Sometimes I’ve thrown out whole scenes. Fortunately I haven’t had to do that during Nano. That’s not good for the word count.

So that’s how I do it. But what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Each of us sitting around our discussion table yesterday handles plot differently. I expect that there are as many ways to plot as there are writers.

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