I recently read the Kindle edition of Elements of Plot: A Personalized Approach by Terri Main, founder of Wordmaster Communications, with a mission of providing writers with “quality publishing and educational services at reasonable prices.”
At 99 cents, Elements of Plot is certainly reasonable, and the material inside is concise, valuable, and fun to read.
First in a projected series (“Writing Your Novel YOUR Way”), Elements of Plot includes a variety of methods to plotting/outlining your novel. It is very readable and well-written–35 pages, so it’s compact– and full of good advice without trying to impose “the” way to approach novel-writing.
Reading books on writing, though useful in many ways, can simply add to the confusion. I’ve read more than fifty of them and if I include articles in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, on blogs and websites, I probably read the equivalent of another fifty or one hundred books in the forty-five years since I first decided I wanted to write things other people would read.
I’ve learned from each of them. Many of them have also confused me. One book was all about plotting and the “proper” way to do that. Another I read, said “plot is an illusion.” According to that author, plot is merely “the accumulated actions the character takes in resolving a problem.” Hmmm… Sounds like a plot to me.
Most require very long and very detailed plot outlines, although the nature of those plot outlines varies greatly. Some look like snowflakes, some like wagon wheels, some are meandering paths, some are written on cards and shuffled, some are pages in a notebook.
Each author has his “one-and-only” way to write an outline.
If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve run into these one-and-only-way types who just know how a story is supposed to be told. I’ve encountered some recently in a debate over the necessity or usefulness of prologues and epilogues, but that’s a story for another day.
Main is also the author of Creative Calisthenics: A Workout for the Writer’s Imagination, and she recently answered a few of my questions about her new book.
I’m an educator first. One thing we know about education is that different people learn in different ways. The same is true of writing. When I teach magazine writing, I give students six methods of “outlining’ an article. None of which your English teacher told you about. So, I’m very big on adapting to a person’s individual style and helping them optimize that style.
I’ve got a book in outline form right now I’m calling “Noveling by the Seat of your Pants.” No one I can see has written one from that perspective. The big misconception (even among Pantsers) is that they don’t create a plot outline. They do. The plot outline is their first draft. Instead of trying to imagine where the story is going to go and writing down notes, scratching out a line in an outline, and moving around summaries of scenes. They do that with paragraphs and pages.
So, that’s my next big writing book project. This month I’m working on getting a sequel out for another novel.
1. What inspired the series?
Actually, I bought a book on novel writing authored by a woman who taught a class for a major reputable writing school. I started reading it and she was speaking very “authoritatively” about the way to plot a novel. It was a very detailed method planning out every nuance of every scene in every chapter before you began to write anything. Then she said something to the effect that people who don’t do this type of planning simply will not ever be successful writing their novels. They will fail. So, that made me curious about her track record. I looked her up and discovered that aside from the book on novel writing, she had only published a couple of short stories and an article for a literary magazine. She had never actually published a novel.
It started me thinking about the successful authors I knew. Some did do detailed planning, like this author advised. Others made a sort of overview and then filled in the rest as they wrote. Still others “write by the seat of the pants.” As an educator (I spent 30 years teaching college), I already knew different people learn differently. It only made sense that they would approach writing differently as well. That didn’t mean that they couldn’t improve, but that improvement needed to take account of their methodology.
Yet, every book and school out there took the same approach. There was one and only way to write a novel – MY WAY! So, people would grab a hold of one of these methods, and they worked for some, but most got burned out because they were using another person’s tool and not their own. Also, I found that none of the books even recognized that you could write a novel without making detailed plot outlines (of course, only using their method.) So, I wrote a few limited blog posts about the three methods and later expanded it into a short course and then a book.
2. How many books do you think will be included?
I currently have books planned on the following:
Character Development (Character dossiers are fine, but not for everyone. Why not interview a character or discover her as you write?)
World Making (Creating the “world” in which your story takes place)
First drafts, Editing and Revision (Product creation)
And one I am just now beginning to consider adding is Publishing and Marketing YOUR Way. At one time there was really only one way to get that novel published. Find a publisher or agent and hope your novel made its way through the slush pile. That’s still one way, but we have so many others as well. You can go to small traditional publishers who may only publish a few volumes a year, but can give each author a lot of attention.
There are some writer’s collaboratives springing up which share the costs of publishing and marketing, but otherwise run the collaborative like a publisher with standards for publication, etc. Then you can go the self-publishing route and get out a print book on Amazon for as little at $20 and have it distributed to other online sellers for under $100. Or you can go digital and publish ebooks on Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony and a bunch of other places essentially for free. Each of these has challenges and advantages.
Also a lot of the old rules no longer apply. Self published books in the past simply could not be sold unless you were, say a traveling speaker and sold them after the meetings. Bookstores wouldn’t carry them. But with Amazon carrying just about anything that has been published, you don’t have to worry about the local Mom and Pop not having your book.
I’ve published traditionally with a small publisher and I’ve self published. And honestly, the “respect” that followed traditional publishing helped me get some reviews, but not really a lot of sales. But then, if I want to publish with the Big Houses someday, self-pubbing now might spoil those possibilities. Also some people simply do not have the personality to self-pub. You are in charge of everything. Some of us like that, but others prefer to “just write.”
So, again, there is no one-size fits all approach.
Sounds good to this independent writer!
Death Gets an “F” (A Pinewood College Mystery)
Dark Side of the Moon (A Carolyn Masters Mystery)
Parmenter’s Wager (Science Fiction Short Story)
A Question of Defense (Science Fiction Short Story)
She is working on a sequel to Death Gets an “F”, and her traditional publisher has the sequel to Dark Side of the Moon.
So, we are moving along.
And with the various outline methods available — especially in the chapter entitled Creating Detailed Plot Outlines — I have no excuse not to plot my next novel. This pantser had better get crackin’!