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To Plot or Not to Plot; That Is the Question

What would normally be a celebratory "I've finished writing another book!" comes bittersweet today.

Yes, I did finish a writing a book that is 120,000+ words, but no, it isn't the final book in the series. A series that I have been writing for the last year and a half, powering through since the beginning. The fae series was meant to be a trilogy, and then I couldn't get all my ideas into three books, so they changed to four. And then five. I actually plotted book five, so I wouldn't have to move onto book six. Yet here I am.

Each book is a 120,000+ words with little end in sight, and I'll need to spend at least two to three months writing the sixth-- and final-- book. I may just give up if it goes on any longer. Even after writing, I'll need to go and edit, and I love deleting. So no, these books will NOT be 120,000+ words when they finally get published.

Honestly, I've never been a plotter, and it takes a certain type of writer to start plotting. Even back in school when we were forced to do outlines before writing our papers, I would literally write my paper and then turn in the outline. To full marks, I might add. But outlines and plotting have never been my thing. Even though, in my day job working with non-writers writing articles, I tell them to start with an outline and go from there.

Hypocritical? Potentially.

Smart? Yet to be decided.

You want me to think ahead? Absolutely not! I already do that too much in my normal life. My life is already scheduled to the T, so why would I want to have my books that way? Like many writers, writing is therapeutic, and it's a way to be fantastical without letting all control go from our daily lives.

For some of the readers of my books, they may think that I should've plotted. For some editors, they'll tell me its easier if I plot: easier to write and edit. I've always said that my characters are who they are, and they are going to take me on the journey they wish to go on.

The first time I ever plotted a book is actually what is currently named "Fae #5." (Great title, I know.) I plotted the book specifically, so I wouldn't have a book 6. However, my plot-- a long list of bullet points in chronological order-- was over ten pages long, and I didn't think I was doing it properly. However, I did get a look at another writer's plot, which was over twenty pages of settings, people, clothing, beats, etc., and I was like, "I guess mine isn't so bad."

When speaking with other writers, they give me their personal ways of handling it. One does historical biographies, so the plot is already there whether or not they plot. Another author shares how they plot for five or six months and writes the book in a month because most of their story is already written. (That is called a first draft in my world.)

Then I get writers who are new or wanting to change up their way of doing things, asking how they should do it from my expert knowledge.

My advice to those writers is to do what makes you happy and works for you. We can share all that we have done, but as writers, we usually don't know something isn't going to work until we've done it ourselves. Plotting, writing, editing, or otherwise. Even people who suggest I do things like them or what I should do is taken with a grain of salt.

As a writer, much of what I do or don't do is because I've seen others doing it, and I wonder if it will work for me. Especially when you see how the other person/writer/editor/etc. has done it. If they haven't done it the way that I like, then there's no way I'm doing it.

Prior to picking up writing as much that I currently have, I was a "pantser," someone who does NOT plot. Some people are in the middle, and some people go all the way. In the case of Fae #5, based on other people plotting styles, I would squarely put myself in the middle ground. I have my outline, but I have not created a rough draft. I have even gone on to plot another book, which is currently named "Zombie Apocalypse." That plotting style is the same to Fae #5, and it seems to be working for me. Kinda.

The plotting stops me from going off on random tangents. In a way, I already have because I wrote the plot. In a matter of days, I decided just how many tangents I was going to allow myself. It also keeps me on track. Besides the 1,000 words a day that I force myself to do, I know how many plot points I have to get to the end. If I'm working on 70,000-word book, I know I'll have a book in ~70 days, and I should know how much time I should take on each section.

Now, the chaotic evil in me-- a very small section of my personality-- asks if I am limiting my creativity by plotting and by keeping myself confined to what I came up with a few months ago and does it fit the characters that I have now created. And of course, my mind jumps off the deep end.

  • Has my personality changed or what has happened in my life given me more experience and thoughts to work with?

  • Have I seen something cool that I now want to try?

  • Have I seen a story do the exact same thing that am I doing?

As a writer, I must have some self-doubts, or I would get too big of an ego. And being a writer means self-doubts constantly, hoping that I am doing something write that makes me a good author to others and something I would personally want to read.

By keeping to the confines of plotting, am I being consistent with my writing, or am I being constrictive? Ask more questions, blah, blah, blah. What is creativity, and am I actually creative? Or just taking what I've read and done and regurgitating it?

We'll leave those larger, extensional questions for someone else. Though, I would say that this blog post is exactly why I should plot because what was my point again?

Oh, right, plotting.

So in conclusion...

While there are many questions that come into plotting or not plotting, which is the question, it is very dependent on what works for the writer, and I'm still figuring it out. However, there needs to be some flexibility when it comes to plots and writing. Characters should be allowed to take their tangents that aren't always the most focused on their current stories because they're people-- or fae or zombies or whatever else-- and they deserve their own lives. Characters, like people, don't always stay on track.

However, this is not for me to say that your story should be so loosey-goosey and going so far off that there is no plot and leads readers asking what are we reading. (There is an audience for that, but I'm not it.) It's about making meaningful tangents, such as the characters making bad choices or saying a scene could've been cut but was left in the book.

I have to decide what works best for me as a writer but also in my life. Plotting has helped me get to 1,000 words a day faster, but I also need to the motivation, which can be hard when I'm pulling against my instincts to do whatever I want versus what I've thought and plotted out. I also know that I'm learning new things every day, writing and otherwise, and what works in my schedule now may not work in the future. Plotting seems like a valid choice when I suddenly have more things going on in my life and need to keep everything straight instead of having my head in the clouds.

The answer is that I have no answer to plot or not! Do you?

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