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No plots allowed!

Discussion in 'On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft' started by Malachi Holden, Feb 5, 2015.

  1. Mr. King says that your job as a writer is not to create your story, but to discover it, sort of like an archaeologist digging up a fossil. He goes on to say that plot is a tool for digging up this fossil, but it's like a jackhammer, and you'll break apart more of the fossil than you will dig up. I take this to mean that it's too constricting to the reader, and the author is putting to strong of a grip on their work. They need to step back and release a bit, letting the story take them where it wants to go.

    I agree partially: you don't want your work to feel contrived, like a Scooby-Doo episode or something. But I would like to propose an alternate perspective.

    What if instead of the fossil being the story, and plot being a tool to uncover it -- what if the fossil was the plot itself, and the writing process was the tool to uncover it, and the story was the computer diagram of the fossil, depicting it while it was flesh and blood.

    So you're walking through the desert and you see a little bit of bone, the nose of a dinosaur, sticking out of the ground. This is the idea that sets you off on writing this story. You get out your tools and you begin digging, and you find the tail bone. This is your idea for how the story will end. Eventually you finish digging and you have the entire skeleton; this is the whole plot of the story, but you're not done yet, you still don't know what the actual dinosaur looks like. Now it's time to scan it and input a three dimensional model into the computer, digitally recreating the whole beast. Finally, you've got the entire story.

    This is how I think of writing -- it still goes along with the concept of discovery, but plot (the skeleton) is still an essential part.
  2. Moderator

    Moderator Ms. Mod Administrator

    If that's how creating a story works best for you, then by all means that's how you should do your writing. What works for Stephen isn't the only approach but he was suggesting that there could be another way that could be more freeing to some writers than being boxed into a corner by an outline. You've come up with yet another approach and that's terrific!
  3. staropeace

    staropeace Richard Bachman's love child

    I like the way you think! Keep thinking dem thinks and post. You appear to be a smart young man.

    GNTLGNT The idiot is IN

    ...dinosaur nose...
  5. blunthead

    blunthead Well-Known Member

    I'd always wanted to be able to write fiction. In nursing school I discovered, by force, that I could write good essays. It was while writing them that I noticed that, if allowed, the story (an essay can be a kind of story) would take over and literally begin telling itself. All I had to do was transcribe it. I found the writing assignments uniquely enjoyable for this reason.

    A while back something inexplicably wonderful happened to me at the SKMB when a group of us set out on a mutual writing assignment. I rediscovered writing, but the wonderful part was that the story, my part of it, wrote itself. I used to believe that I'm not a writer, but I think I am in my way. But, only in the sense that I can transcribe what happens on its own.
  6. Walter Oobleck

    Walter Oobleck keeps coming back...or going, and going, and going

    When I read that line in On Writing I thought of The Tommyknockers. My guess is that eventually you will also read The Tommyknockers. I don't know how much stock you put in what other readers have said about their reading of a story, if you read any of that kind of thing...reviews. Some don't like the story, but that can be said about everything under the sun. Some don't like it. Some do. I enjoyed The Tommyknockers...read it three four times. I enjoyed it and for me that's all that matters, reading is personal...you do it alone...had to read from the Dick and Jane primer in school yay back and we read from stories from time to time in school, but for the most, you read alone.

    And...heh! I like the tail bone analogy...just recently I began to wonder if anyone could write a story from the back to front. Or rewrite a draft, say...starting to conjure up crazy images of odd-looking dinosaurs now so I best quit. Anyway...check out Tommyknockers when you get a chance. Good story, reminds me of that line from On Writing.
  7. Scratch

    Scratch In the flesh.

    Larry Brown wrote a short story then cut out every sentence which he then put in a hat and shook up. Whatever line he pulled out he placed in that order. It worked surprisingly well because it was the story of a rape and came out as a shattered mind darting back and forth from image to image. Whatever works I guess, even if you pull it out of your hat.
  8. Walter Oobleck

    Walter Oobleck keeps coming back...or going, and going, and going

    Heh! I'm reminded of that line in Strunk & White...don't recall exactly how it goes, but it is dated. Don't be afraid to take a pair of scissors to your manuscript! Oh no, here it is...page 72 in my copy...in Section V An Approach to Style...#5 Revise and Rewrite:

    "...if it needs rearranging, or stirring up, scissors should be brought into play. Do not be afraid to seize whatever you have written and cut it to ribbons." I've read some Larry Brown but not that short story. Is it in a collection? Does remind me of those times...little kid...recounting tragedy? Your going a mile a minute, speaking in fragments, trying to cover all of the bases?
  9. Tanith

    Tanith Active Member

    Hope nobody minds me performing a bit of thread necromancy here. :)

    I recently re-read On Writing and it inspired me to drag out and dust off the notes of a novel I'd started some twenty years ago. And while sai King is one my heroes and someone I respect immensely, I don't agree with his "no outline" admonitions. That may work for him, but I want to at least have an idea where I'm going, and sometimes fleshing out a plot can enhance the story as new ideas surface.

    So, yeah, I think I'll be putting a rough outline together as soon as I work out why I changed one character's name a half-dozen times and other oddities. Already I can see what can stay, and what needs to go...

  10. doowopgirl

    doowopgirl very avid fan

    I am one of the least creative people I've ever met and am endlessly fascinated by the process. I love that different people find that different methods work for them and go for it without worrying about what someone else says.
  11. Senor_Biggles

    Senor_Biggles Well-Known Member

    I think if I had more time for writing I would definitely explore the no outlines method a lot more thoroughly. As it is I manage relatively few hours a week and I need some idea of where I’m trying to get to so that when I stumble down a dead end I can back out and get myself pointing in the right direction. Most of what I write is short stories and I find I don’t even want to put pen to paper (metaphorically, I use Word in reality just like everybody else) until I’ve tossed an idea around in my head for a bit, and by that time I usually have an end in sight. Having said that I never wrote down an outline for anything until I decided to embark on a novel a couple of years ago and I don’t think I referred back to it once during the actual writing, and I know for sure that I haven’t referred to it during the (oh so slow) first edit. I think both the outline and the first draft come out in about the same place but what ended up writing has a much more spectacular ending and the journey to get there is a lot more fun.

    I think the rather longwinded point I’m attempting to make is that it doesn’t hurt to have a plan and it can definitely help to get you started and keep you motoring along, but it’s your plan and you can change it any old time you feel like it.
  12. skimom2

    skimom2 Just moseyin' through...

    A writer I know refers to the two types of writers as 'plotters' and 'pantsers' (as in, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-). This thought may not be original to her, but, as Ms. Mod pointed out, there is no one way to skin that cat. I'm a hybrid, myself: I have to have the first paragraph clearly in my head before I put a single word on the page. In addition, I have an ending in mind (not that anything I've written has ever ended exactly as I thought it would), and critical scenes or plot points in mind before I start. I find that when I write with no end in mind, I tend to meander (think Dickens on a word bender). It's in the journey from the concrete first paragraph toward the intended ending that I hear the characters speaking. And, yep, things change from my original skeleton story, every damn time. I don't worry about that. It delights me when the characters grab the reins and say, "Nope. This is where I want to go." That won't happen every time, though; sometimes they need a shove before they speak up.
    AchtungBaby, Ebdim9th and GNTLGNT like this.
  13. Mr Nobody

    Mr Nobody Well-Known Member

    More necromancy: skimom2's comment reminds me of something Ian Rankin has said in interviews/Q&As. Some of his Rebus books were initially intended to feature a character (a politician, iirc) across a trilogy. Forty pages into book one, the character was dead. Rankin says he didn't know why or who'd done it, but the story itself had "decided" that the character was superfluous.
    Had he been writing to a strict plan, that wouldn't have been possible and the novel might well have died there. As it was, with the way he works he was able to let it all work out.
    I always used to be a 'pantser' (no, autocorrect; not panther or panzer :biggrin2:). I'd have a beginning and a vague shape for the story in my head, and with luck I might have a good notion of where it'd end, but that was it. Very often I wouldn't even have a first line. What I did need, though (and still do), is a title. It doesn't have to be the right or final one, but it has to be a title and it has to fit (so no 'Crime Story #1', etc, for me...unless all I'm doing is typing up a few notes).
    These days, my approach is more flexible. I can 'pants' it, but that's mostly for short stories. For other things, I'll have a series of one-line - or even one-word - notes pinned to a couple of cork boards. It allows me to get an idea of overall structure, how many chapters I might need, and so on. One of the boards is half cork, half whiteboard. The whiteboard is where I jot down thoughts, sticking points, things I need to research later, and so on. (I used to research as I wrote. If I hit something I didn't know or needed to clarify, off I went. Bad idea.)
    The reason why I use the whiteboard instead of just typing it into the ms is purely to save time. With the whiteboard, I can erase everything easily enough if I change my mind or a better idea occurs (though I also use it to contrast and compare ideas). On screen, that might involve a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across pages or chapters, amending this or that.
    For crime novels, I'll go a step further and outline the chapters in the ms itself. For example, a cork board note like "B visits W in hospital for questioning" might become "B goes to hospital. Conversation w/ nurse. Visits W. W has heavy bruising to face, concussion, other injuries inc. bruising to throat, tho W can talk. B questions W re: movements, etc, but is dissatisfied w/ answers".
    That outline there became an eight page section of a chapter (the second section ran to a couple of pages and 'just happened'), and of course some outlines are longer and more detailed than that. Which isn't to say I stick to them religiously. Anything can happen during the first draft. The outlines just help me get things back on track during the second draft phase, usually by showing me where I've allowed things to go off on too much of a tangent or allowed the true focus to become lost/muddled. And of course they're a bit of a touchstone even during the first draft, which means I can take steps early to avoid the need for lengthy (or complete) re-writes.
    One thing I won't or can't do is work to a very detailed, rigid plot. That's just like doing a paint by numbers thing, and while the end result might look pretty enough, the actual doing of it won't have been much fun. That kind of thing always, always shows on the page. And besides, I still like to feel like I'm discovering the full extent of the story as I go along, too. If I know everything ahead of time, why do I need to make the effort? I won't be discovering anything new, because the discovery phase is already over.
  14. Ebdim9th

    Ebdim9th A Man's Chord and Author/bringer of Bad Dolls

    I have a story in my head, often, an end most of the time, although everything changes when I write it down. Many times drastically. So I have all these images, ideas and events popping up along the way that I know I need to get to, or want to get to, but I'm not exactly sure where they are. So I have had intent, enough to be a mental outline of sorts, but I've never been organized enough to take note cards and line them up in a binder, or on a cork board, or white board, or story board. I just sit down, get started and go, stopping to research along the way when I have questions. It further changes what is written to step aside into that research, or to start with it, but I always benefit from looking into how things are, from how jet engines work, wing lift on take off in thin hot air, (most airliners can take off in up to 118 degree weather and after that, depending on humidity, they have to be grounded until things cool down) to the exoatmospheric detonation of 'Starfish Prime' in the sixties ... it knocked out phones and street lights all over Hawaii .....
    Scratch, GNTLGNT and AchtungBaby like this.
  15. AchtungBaby

    AchtungBaby Well-Known Member

    I prefer working from a (loose) outline while allowing for spontaneity.
    Scratch, GNTLGNT and Ebdim9th like this.
  16. Ebdim9th

    Ebdim9th A Man's Chord and Author/bringer of Bad Dolls

    It's odd, I can't really imagine writing completely by the seat of my pants. I've got to have some idea of what it is I'm about to write. Although I still do that ... just start with an idea and go with it.
    Kurben and GNTLGNT like this.

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