I’m a plotter. Who knew? Not me.  Oh, I’ve always been a list maker. My desk has a half dozen lists on it at the moment, mostly in the form of short lists on sticky notes: “Things I need to organize my desk” is the one that stands out the most (maybe because it’s on a bright yellow sticky?).  “Wordcount for day” hangs right beside it. (that one is written on a green sticky note.) There’s a to-do list – which also includes a list (I had to call around to insurance companies since Guitar Hero is planning on buying a truck and we needed to get quotes–he’s been working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week, so I volunteered.) 

But whenever I’ve tried to plot out a story, I’ve usually ended up with a list of scenes that end up similar to the list of “things I need to organize my desk” list. It just sort of hangs there and nothing gets done about it.  Because it used to be as soon as I wrote a half page, the plot bunnies would start nipping at my ankles and leading me off down bunny trails.  Don’t get me wrong, it worked really well for Private Property. When I started writing it, I had no idea Sam was going to … well, do what he did to Mark. (Nope, no spoilers here.)  It didn’t work quite as well for Personal Protection. I wandered down a lot of plot trails that led no where and ultimately had to get cut. Multiple times. Not efficient. I wasn’t a happy camper. The next in the Hauberk series did the same — lots and lots of twisting and turning bunny trails leading…nowhere. That manuscript is the one that made me realize that something had to change.  Part of it was due to a frickin’ annoying thyroid condition that affects my creativity, but some of it was due to my insistence that I. Was. A. Pantser. (By the way, that story is done, and submitted, I’m just waiting to hear back from my editor on it.)

Enter the wonderful, brilliant, and extremely patient Vivian Arend.  She nudged me to stop following those pesky bunny trails. To make a plan and stick to it. Oh, there was still room for creativity. There are times when you’re writing that the character does something that makes you sit back and go “Oh My! I didn’t see THAT coming. That’s freaking brilliant/hilarious/sad.” And you just have to follow it, as long as it follows the main path and doesn’t lead you to Mars when you were originally heading to Washington.

I’ve discovered that instead of writing a story outline like a list the way I had been, I needed to … wait for it…tell it like a story. I’m having so much fun. By telling the story, I get to explore things about the characters and find out problems BEFORE I’ve written the story.  Do you know annoying/frustrating it is to written only to discover something about your character that means you have to make drastic changes to your manuscript. (You know that butterfly theory — that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, it affects the weather in Texas? If you change a line on the first page of a manuscript it can often mean massive changes the further into the story you get.)  By fiddling around with the “short story” before jumping into writing the manuscript, I’m discovering where the potential plot problems are and solving them in a line or a paragraph. Plus, I get to work on these “short story” outlines while I’m working on my work-in-progress. That gives my brain a rest on those days when it’s really fed up of looking at the manuscript.

But, as I announced on Twitter, I think I have to hand in my Pantsing union card and move to the dark side…but I won’t making lists. I’ll be telling short stories (that’s a much nicer name than synopsis — AKA sucknopsis.)

So tell me, are you a listmaker? And do you stick to them? Or do you find yourself choosing the easiest things on the list and putting off the tough items?

Lists vs plot bunnies
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7 thoughts on “Lists vs plot bunnies

  • August 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Love the post, maybe I'll try this next time! I've had to go back and rewrite my current WIP several times now.

    I make lists and forget where I put them.

  • August 18, 2010 at 6:19 am

    I've heard this called a 'treatment', where you just type an extremely condensed version of your story. Working out the major plot points and how character A, B & C get to do plot point A -Z.

    I actually started using that for my L&D stories and I'm really happy with it. Buy the time I finished the 'treatment' I think I had like 7500 words. Much more than a synopsis, but also a clear cut path to follow. Now I just need to keep following… 🙂

    Glad you are loving this new method!

  • August 18, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Yeah, I'm a bit of a list maker. To Do lists, packing lists, those that is more in my head.

    I find I am much more efficient when I have a list going and I am more likely to follow it and get things done.

    Of course, I'll get the easy things out of the way first…:)

    in Germany

  • August 18, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I am not a list maker, unless it is a grocery list.

  • August 18, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    It depends–I don't always make lists, but when life's super busy and I start feeling overwhelmed, sometimes writing it down helps me to focus and figure out what I can tackle first. And yep, often it's the quicker/smaller tasks that get done first so I can check them off 🙂

  • August 19, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    You know me, BIG list maker. Unfortunately, I still look at the list and my mind skips random items.

    I've gravitated toward writing a new synopsis whenever I've made major changes since like you said, everything changes. I'm on the third one for TR but each time I understand the motivations and characters better. Still don't think I'll ever be a plotter.

  • August 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Marley — try writing your synopsis more like a short story instead of a list. You'll be surprised what you discover about your characters, and your plot problems. I wonder if the list side of the brain is different from the creative side so writing a list-list synopsis can leave you stumbling for creative solutions.

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