My reading list grows exponentially. Everytime I read a book, it'll mention three other books I feel I have to read. It's like a particularly relentless series of pop-up ads.
-A.J. Jacobs

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tiffany Has An Epiphany

Disclaimer: What is about to be said by Tiffany is borderline without a doubt embarrassing. But the thing about it is, there has to be other schmucks like me out there that have been in this same boat, and I hope that maybe by my raw honesty about this topic, it could help at least one other person who stumbles across this blog.

Bottom line-  Tiffany's epiphany is this: An idea does not = a plot.

There, I said it. It seems like a DUH-no-brainer kind of thing, but it wasn't until a couple of days ago that I was able to realize what was wrong with the books that I've written or been in the process of writing. Up until then, the definition of a plot was: a small piece or area of ground: a burial plot.  Which is where I dug myself and my book into every time I wrote like that.

And get this my epiphany occurred while I was in the middle of teaching 4th graders a lesson on plot - of all things.

So, when the other teachers on my team and I discussed how we were going to teach plot, I thought about how it would make sense for me to teach plot through writing. Because DUH! You have to have a plot to write. Right? (Of course I didn't stop to think about my lack of such an important thing in my stories at that moment). It made perfect sense for me to teach my students plot by telling them how real-live authors plot out their own books. So, I turned to the most genius and kid-friendly plot visual I knew of courtesy of the One and Only:  Jamie Harrington. She created what she calls the storysaurus to plot out her stories. It's basically brilliant. And who doesn't like dinosaurs?

Between the storysaurus and Shannon Messenger's outlining pattern, along with a couple of other online resources, my students and I reverse-map plotted The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (An AH-May-zing book, I might add). I drew a giant dinosaur on the board, and then wrote the main focus of each chapter on a sticky note and placed it on the dinosaur's back (you know, like the plates on a dinosaur's back). We then figured out what the starting point was, the inciting incident, the conflicts/crisis that contribute to the rising action, the moment of hopelessness, the actual climax, and then the falling action and resolution. It went amazingly well.

I even went as far as to show them how they could use a storysaurus to plot out their own narrative stories that they have to write, pointing out that each paragraph contributes to the climax and then leads to the resolution.

It's so simple.

Yet, as I stared at that storysaurus after school, I realized, OhmygoshIamatotalandcompleteidiot! It's right there! My huge and most ridiculous problem: I DON'T HAVE A PLOT! Nor did I have a plot for the first book that is collecting dust on a shelf, that will never see the light of day again. That's where I went wrong.

I was missing some of the major elements of a plot because I was a total pantser. I didn't plan it out. I let the ideas write themselves. The words would flow from my mind and my fingers would type and I would just go along. But then, I would find myself in a corner or in the middle of a burial plot. And I wouldn't know how to get out of it, and I'd go into panic mode, and then put the book away and declare myself a Professional Reader who will never ever become a professional writer. A very vicious cycle that guarantees a lot more panicking than actual writing. I don't like that panicky feeling.

Then, I had a huge brain storm session with my loverlies Tina and Kristen, which helped me so much. I now have a plot. I know my plot. I can write my book. It's so simple, it's stupid. Well, not really. The plotting almost made me lose my mind all day yesterday, and I basically walked around like a zombie without a single coherent thought until I worked it all out in my mind. Considering that yesterday was a school day, I can tell you another honest truth: my classroom did not get much accomplished during my Brain Spasms (AKA WHAT IS MY PLOT?) but when it finally came, the feeling was one of sweet satisfaction. And when I was given the thumbs up by my critters, I was in Plot Heaven.

I also got a great tip from my critters to watch The Plot Whisperer which solidified everything I had in my mind.

So there you have it.

I was a pantser.

I am no longer.

I am now a plotter.

And maybe, just maybe, I will have a complete book that is worthy of being shown to someone soon.

12 brilliant remarks:

Summer said...

It's not stupid. It's a really easy trap. This was the same reason that I didn't finish a book until last year. I'd get a great idea and start running, without taking the time to actually make a plot.

I still do a broad outline, just a few major points to keep me in the right direction. And even then, it still doesn't always work out, but that's okay.

Either way, congrats. :)

Simon C. Larter said...

I came to this conclusion recently too. Yay for plotting! All us reformed pantsers should start a club. With cocktails. And mozzarella sticks. And profiteroles. (I really just wanted to use the word "profiteroles" today, is all.)


Marisa Hopkins said...

Awesome post!! YAY for your epiphany!!

I used to be a pantser... wrote one book a couple years ago that was just plain wretched (and it wasn't just the lack of plot...) But I decided that I loved those characters, and I loved the core of the story, so I thought and thought and like MAGIC the plot appeared. No I'm rewriting from scratch, only saving the core and the characters, and life is SO much better!!

You'll get it done!! It'll be crazy exciting when your story sparkles with plot!

Tina Lynn said...

Amen to that sister!

Kristen said...

*stands from uncomfortable chair and puts down styrofoam glass of water*

*fidgets with "hello my name is" name tag and clears throat*

My name is Kristen. I am also a recovering pantser, but I'm following a plot outline now (thanks to you and Tina ;)

Your story was always good but now that you have your plot you will become Tiffany the Conquerer


Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Aw, I feel so honored to see that my post helped. It works really well for me, so hopefully it will do the same for you. Thanks for the shout out! Have a great weekend!

Sara McClung ♥ said...

yesssssss! another one joins the dark side ;)

T. Anne said...

Former panster here! *raises hand* I'm in the throws of 'plotting' my new WIP so this is a timely post for me. =)

Christopher said...

i think this is one of my problems, i make these cool characters and then i tell them to do cool stuff and they just go off and do random things, they act a little too much like me in that area

i need to give them better directions, and i do like dinosaurs....

Dangerous With a Pen said...

I love the dinosaur idea!

I have also been a pantser and can't call myself reformed just yet. I am replotting the story that started my blog and it's a scary process. It's very hard and daunting work, but you're so right!

Tiffany Neal said...

Thank you for all the plot support, dear friends.

I haven't completely given over to outlining EVERYTHING, but I have a great outline of my story, and I feel so at peace with it.


DL Hammons said...

Tiffany's epiphany

That really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Tiffany's epiphany

I'm an original plotter. Let me welcome you to the land of structured creativity! :)