Pat Trainum (who writes as Patricia Bradley) was the speaker for our May meeting. Here are her notes on plotting and planning.
Are you a Plotter or Panster or Tweener?
Plotter: Outlines every scene, labels them action/reaction, has an Excel spreadsheet listing each scene, has ever plot point (turning point) fixed. That’s not to say his characters can’t suddenly surprise him and take the story in another direction, but when it does, he goes back and re-outlines. Her joy comes in the outlining. This is where she discovers her story.
Panster: Sits down and starts writing with only a general idea of where he is going and the story unfolds as he writes. Her joy comes in discovering the story as she goes.
With Shadows of the Past, I had 3 characters, a crime, and a setting. It took me 5 years to get publishable.
Tweener: That’s somewhere between a plotter and a panster. Me right now. Before I start writing I have to know 6 things:
• My Story Question
• My Characters and their goals
• Plot—the sequence of events in your story.
• Death—what kind of death will it be? All stories are about some type of death: physical, psychological or professional
• What will propel the story from Act 1 to Act 2 and from Act 2 to Act 3?
Basic things I need to know about my characters:
· What type personality does each character have? Every main character has a personality type taken from the Myers-Briggs personality charts. I pick an occupation and then Google the type person who would do well in it.
· Livy’s personality is ISTJ:
o Introverted: reserved, controlled, self-motivated, deliberate
Sensing: realistic, practical, detail-oriented, traditional
Thinking: logical, objective, pragmatic, levelheaded
Judging: orderly, responsible, methodical, hard-working
o This makes her a great detective She is reserved
· Mason’s personality is ESTP
o Extroverted: outgoing, friendly, engaging, energetic
o Sensing: hands-on, practical, observant, physical
o Thinking: logical, objective, pragmatic, outspoken
o Perceiving: responsive, spontaneous, adaptable, adventurous
What is the lie Livy believes?
Livy believes her father is irresponsible. When she was 10, he promised to come home for her birthday, but he didn’t make. Instead he had an opportunity to take a group into the interior of Alaska and he took it. He’s been a bush pilot there since before her mother died. Livy feels he abandoned her, doesn’t keep his work, etc. She doesn’t want to be like him and goes to the other extreme, being perhaps too conscientious and as long as she fulfilling her duties, she feels confident…Duty fulfiller.
So what will I do? I will attack her confidence. Six weeks before the book opens, she is at a convenience store where an armed robber holds up the clerk and shoots him. She’s in the back of the store when she hears the gunshot. Chases the suspect into a dark alley, corners him and he turns, raises the gun and she shoots and kills him.
The robber turns out to be a 17-year-old teenage boy. Immediately she starts second guessing herself—could she have handled it differently, did she really see him raise the gun, etc. When the book opens, she has just returned to active duty and she and her partner, Mac, are on their way to question a suspect in a white collar crime. They receive an all-car respond—armed robbery in progress at a jewelry story. They arrive just as the suspect runs out and give chase. He goes into a warehouse and they follow. She and Mac separate….Mac gets shot and she blames herself. Did she freeze? Did she act fast enough? Is she a good cop? She is put on desk duty again and she opts for a leave of absence and goes home to Logan Point.
Plot—the sequence of events in your story
• Something has to be at stake in your story.
• What are the ultimate stakes?
• There are 3 kinds of deaths in a story:
• Physical, psychological, professional
• You are not limited to 1 type of death in your story and Livy will face both the physical and professional
Every story has a beginning and every story has an ending. The middle is where the battles take place. And in the middle you have to keep your reader turning the page.
Your opening is the first section. It’s Act I. This is where you introduce your characters and have them in their ordinary world, your setting, and hint at or present the problem and what’s at stake. It also sets the tone—suspense, romance—and if it is romance, introduce your hero-heroine either in person or have them think about the other—give a hint, thriller, rom-com, women’s fiction, action.
At the end of Act I, is what James Scott Bell calls the 1st Doorway of No Return. Once your Lead goes through this door, the reader must believe your character cannot go back to her ordinary world until she makes things right.
This is where your battles take place. It’s a series of twist and turns that I call the Ds—disasters that progressively get worse and bring the lead closer to the 2nd Doorway of No Return. In this sense, disaster doesn’t always mean something bad happens to the character. At the time it happens, it can seem like a good thing. Like in Return to Me. one of the disasters is when the hero Bob falls in love with the heroine Grace. That’s a good thing. Right? But Grace has put off telling him that she has his dead wife’s heart. And now she knows she must. And when she does, he leaves, just like she thought he would.
Which brings us to the 2nd Doorway of No Return. Once Grace tells Bob she has Elizabeth’s heart, there is no going back and undoing it. That thrusts the story into Act III where the final battle is played out—she leaves to go on her dream trip to Europe and and he realizes he needs to go after her.
Paraphrased from James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle:
There is a point in your book where the character looks at himself and the situation he’s in. It should be around the middle of the book. JSB thinks it has to be in the exact middle, but mine never work out that way.
Anyway, the character takes stock of the situation and makes a decision. He either continues on taking the wrong path if it’s a character-driven plot or he sees himself for what he’s become. For a happy ever after ending, he sees how he needs to change and makes the change.
For a plot-driven story, he looks at himself and sees that the odds of coming out of this situation alive are almost overwhelming. He has to change how he’s doing things.
From this point on, your obstacles are fought from the new perspective.
(Check out either Super Structure or Write Your Novel From the Middle--lots of good stuff there)
The true center is a moment, not a scene. It is not the scene, but just one moment in the scene.
This will help you plot your book because now you know what the transformation will have to be at the end and what the character’s psychological state was at the beginning—your opening.
As you create the lie your character believes, you will know where it will take him. And when he has the look in the mirror moment, you will decide what the transformation will be.
If you know the Mirror Moment, you know what your story is really about. Taken from Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell.