Friday, June 10, 2005

Method to My Madness

I love plotting. In fact, I've been known to plot books, just for fun, that I never actually get around to writing. I love analyzing structure in TV series episodes, movies, books and sometimes even TV commercials. I've been known to apply the hero's journey sequence to things like that as a form of entertainment.

Yes, I'm sick.

When it comes to actually working instead of just entertaining myself (the line does get blurry), I usually start with a concept. Then I populate it with people (I love playing with archetypes here). I figure out what the growth arcs of the major characters are. Then I work out the major steps from the hero's journey. I've read the Joseph Campbell, but I do use the Christopher Vogler version for writers because it's a little more applicable to modern storytelling. I'm fascinated with the universal myth and how it finds its way into just about any story, consciously or otherwise. I scribble all of this in a spiral notebook, and it can take me a couple of weeks until I'm satisfied with it. If I need to write a synopsis, this is when I write it, essentially by connecting the dots of those major steps and putting it in coherent language.

Then I sit down to write and never refer to any of that stuff. Even so, my finished book seldom strays too far from that initial outline. The major turning points are all there, just as I planned. The scenes themselves, though, may come out in an entirely different way than I envisioned, and other stuff may happen along the way. The characters' emotional reactions may be different than I originally expected. So, even though I have all the steps planned, there are still a lot of surprises along the way.

By the way, if anyone is in the Houston area, I'll be signing Enchanted, Inc. at the Borders on Kirby at Westheimer on Saturday at 4.


Adrienne Kama said...

Hi! Quick plotting question. Do you always take a few weeks to plot the story before you begin the actual writing process?

Shanna Swendson said...

I generally spend a few weeks on what I call the "pre-writing" process, which includes plotting as well as stuff like character development, research, thinking about themes, brainstorming ideas in general, etc. With most books, I've usuallly spent a few months thinking about the idea and playing with it in my head before I even get to the serious pre-writing stage.

I don't have every detail mapped out, but I do know what the major turning points will be, I know what will happen at the book's midpoint (and I'm constantly amazed by how that event manages to fall exactly at the book's midpoint, even when I've meandered), and I know the major events leading up to the climax and resolution. I may have a sense of how some of the major scenes will play out (those are the ones that have been running around in my head for a while), but the rest of the book is blank until I get to that point in the story.

I once tried to write without doing all that planning and plotting, and it was a mess. I need to organize my thoughts before I start writing, and I need some sense of structure, though I often wing it within that structure.

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