Right. This was supposed to be a blog post on character development, as folks on Twitter asked me to write one, but it turns out I already blogged about that, using PINK TUTUS as an example. So, then. Since I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I was so taken by how masterfully J.K. Rowling does her plotting, that I feel inspired to write about plotting, or, rather, how I do it, using socks as examples. Why socks? Because it was all the rave last morning in Twitterverse, which, as you can tell, is sort of like my writer's group and my sounding board. Anyway, socks it is and plotting it is, well, how you do it then? How do you plot a novel? You don't. At first. Hold on to your chair and don't yell at me, here is what I mean by it.
Don't plot until your first draft is finished. Okay, this is key, at least this is what I have learned, so please don't assume like this is some sort of special truth, it is not. It's what works for me. The idea is this. Your subconscious knows better than you do. Now, very few of us know how to turn off the noise in our brains and go down to the place that we only feel. It comes with experience and years and years of practice, of which I have neither. So, you have to write your first draft very fast, lighting fast, ideally, without any breaks at all, well, not longer than 1 to 2 days. It shouldn't take you more than 3 months, as Stephen King advises in his ON WRITING. It took me 6 weeks to bang out 1st draft for SIREN SUICIDES, and I'm almost half-done with 1st draft for ROSEHEAD, having only started writing it 3 weeks ago. I assume it will take me 6 weeks total as well. Why? Because you charge forward on association, writing the first thing that comes to mind and excites you.
- Sock example number 1: A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, when an unfamiliar hand reached for them and set them on fire (so, twist number one, who got the socks? Why fire? No clue, first thing that came to my head. What would be cool next?) But then the socks exploded because they were made of special magic exploding wool! BAM! (Whoa? Where did this come from? No idea. Have to keep moving, keep writing.) The socks themselves, instead of burning, grew into two humongous floating balloons and burst out of the house, when the unfamiliar hand reached for them and grabbed their ends, flying out into space! (Right, I thought I was writing fantasy, but this is turning into sci-fi. Fine, I have to keep moving.) A vicious rain of acid alien socks pummeled the pair, causing them to deflate and land on the Moon, which was actually a roll of wool in the jaw of a cat that represented the universe and everything. (WHOA!!! What the hell? No matter, I'll keep writing.) See what I'm doing? I keep moving no matter how crazy it sounds, because it's fun and it keeps me going.
Write out plot points and clean them up. Once you're done with Draft 1, put it away for at least 2 weeks. Don't touch it, forget it existed. Then, after 2 weeks are gone, read it all in one sitting. Again, I'm only borrowing advice from Stephen King here, it worked for me, so I'm sure it will work for you. Anyway, then, when you read it, keep a notepad next to you and write down every single little plot turn you come across, just like you write down a list of to-do's.
- Sock example number 2: A hand reached for socks. (Whose hand? Why? Why secretly?) Socks exploded. (Why? Did someone put them there on purpose? By accident? Were there more socks like these or are they one of a kind?) Exploding wool. (Who invented it? Why? Is it used in other products, like exploding sweaters? Has it been tested on ill-tempered humans?) Socks inflated. (Who did? Did they have a computer chip for it? Was it implanted by special spying sloths? Murderous hippos? Sock monkeys?) Acid alien rain was waiting for them. (Did aliens plan it? Were they enemies for years? Have they mistaken these socks for some other checkered socks?) You see the pattern I'm creating here? That's it. You write out a list of all your turns, big and little, and then start cleaning them up, weaving a logically possible story out of it.
Explain every single plot detail in Draft 2. Now comes the painful part. After you are done with Draft 1 and writing out plot points, in Draft 2 make sure you carefully explain every single plot point, to the point of wanting to vomit. Seriously, write as much of it as you can, as if you were explaining it all to your almost deaf great great grandmother. Because if she can understand what you're talking about, any other reader will understand it too.
- Sock example number 3. A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, their bright pink and purple pattern barely visible in the gloom of the rest of the socks, most of them brown or black, the typical fare of a typical boring clerk working in a bank his entire life without a raise. This particular pair of socks felt particularly out of place, itching to get out, after having spent there only 1 hour, a tag still attached to them, together with a barely discernible scent of a woman's perfume. Then, without any warning, a woman's hand, long and slender, each finger encrusted with a diamond the size of a robin's egg, swiftly snaked in and snatched the pair with a pair of silver pincers... Do I need to continue? I don't think so. You see the point. I try to over-explain every single detail.
Cut down to only necessary details in Draft 3. Bam. You did it. Now in Draft 3 simply cut out the fluff that is not needed, leaving only the things that ring true. Ask your beta readers to chime in, if you're having difficulty seeing it. Or, again, take a break for a couple weeks, and then read it all in one go.
- Sock example number 4. At the bottom of a drawer, underneath a pile of silk stockings, a pair of checkered socks lay uncomfortably, their purple microchips blinking. One minute left until explosion... I think you get the point.
Use the accordion method for the rest of the drafts. Somebody told me about this concept, I can't remember who, but the idea is that you keep expanding and shrinking your drafts until they can't expand and shrink anymore. In any case, don't do more than 10 drafts, chances are, you're overwriting it. Don't write the same novel for longer than 2 years, chances are, you've lost the spark and have to move on. Trust me, once you move on to a new novel and start the same process all over again, it will flow a 100 times smoother. I know, it does for me in ROSEHEAD.
Well, here you have it. It's the method I use, it's nothing like you would read in books on plotting. It works for me. What works for you? Got any tips or secrets to share? Please do in comments, I'm totally dying to learn.