I brainstormed my new story between October of last year up through June of this year, but the one thing I didn’t really think about so much was the plot. As in, protagonist A has something they want, protagonist A’s goals are thwarted by complication B, protagonist A must find some way to get what they want or have those efforts also thwarted. I’ve studied the concept of “plot” for more years than I care to state, but when I’m actually writing, plot turns out to be, “OK, event A occurs to character B, so…what happens after that? OK, event C happens next. And…what happens after that?” etc. There’s no over-arching structure, it’s just a linear sequence of events each thought up for the first time after the other is written, or maybe anticipated a few scenes in advance but not much earlier than that. It’s the soap-opera approach to writing. Soap operas don’t really have a plot; at least, not if you think of “plots” as the fact that stories have a beginning-middle-end structure or a “protagonist A strives to get goal B and either succeeds or not, the end,” structure or “rising action, climax, dénouement” structure.
When I wrote my first novel, Dis/inhibition, I wrote it soap-opera style. This went on for 700 merry, hand-written pages, and eventually stopped only because life got in the way. The “second draft” of that novel was a friend encouraging me to dust off the story and give it an actual beginning, middle, and end. But this was after the fact of writing it, not before. And the non-linear style of writing where I leap back and forth in the timeline of the story to work on whatever? Later drafts. So me thinking about plot before? Is new.yellow.different.
And potentially paralyzing.
There’s a reason I write soap-opera style. I don’t want to feel penned in by global decisions I’d made at an earlier time. I wanted to be free to veer off in the direction of a great idea if it occurred to me, and not feel the need to reject it in order to “stick to my outline.” In the past, I have quickly lost interest in stories that were too well planned in advance.
That was before I started writing fan fiction. Or, more to the point, serial fan fiction, where each episode goes public as soon as it is completed. In that scenario, you better darn well have some idea where you are going, or you’ll write an incoherent mess. But what I discovered writing serial fan fiction is that there’s not as much prior planning in that scenario as you’d imagine. Or, there doesn’t have to be. If I have a vague idea where I want my main character to be at the end of the “season”, I can kind of pace myself getting there, knowing I have exactly X number of episodes to do it in. As each episode is completed, I can toy with ideas I have about stuff that could happen, and decide if that will take me too far afield in getting to my end point, or realize there’s a cool way to redirect the story back on track later, and have fun with spontaneous ideas. The closer I get to the end, the more my choices are constricted by having to tie up loose ends towards the ending I imagined, but that doesn’t end the creative challenges. You get mired in plot holes that need to be fixed, for one.
So yeah, a little pre-planning doesn’t have to be a straight jacket, and with that in mind, I’m plunging into the world of an original fiction novel.