I’m not a plotter. There. I said it.
I know there are a lot of writers out there who will say I should plot my work, that I should outline my stories or even think some of them out. I do think a lot of my stories out, but I don’t believe in plotting.
Wait. Wait! Put down those torches and pitchforks. No need to burn me at the stake. Yeah, it’s dark outside, but lynching is not the way to go here.
Let me explain. I’ve always thought that plotting out stories restricts the actual storytelling. I kills the creative process. I’m not entirely sure some of the greatest writers in the history of literature plotted out there stories. I’m almost certain many of them didn’t sit at their wooden tables, an oil lamp on just a few inches from their parchment and plume.
‘Hmmm…maybe I should put her in this situation. Oh, but wait. What if I do this to her? Ohhh, yeah, this would be awesome. I think, maybe, if she did this, then he would do that, and they would do this…oh yeah. Brilliant stuff. And we can end it like this. Amazing.’
Seriously, folks, do we really think Twain and Poe and Hemingway outlined everything they wrote? What about Dickens? Sure, they may have jotted down some things they didn’t want to forget, but to completely outline the story? I don’t believe it.
I’m a fan of flying by my seat. Not literally. I don’t have buttwings so stop looking. Most of my stories come from seeing something or hearing something and the immediate image or thought that comes to mind is generally what I start writing. I like to get in the car and ride along with the characters. Sometimes we will poke along, while other times we speed at a breakneck pace that threatens to cave the windshield in and cause us to wreck and splinter our bodies along the roadside. For me, being in the car with those characters is where the thrill is. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and they do. And that’s what makes it exciting.
I won’t sit here and lie and say I don’t actually jot down notes, especially if I am somewhere that I can’t actually write. But outlining kills the story for me. Why is that? Why does outlining kill the story? Well, the answer is simple: when I complete an outline I already know the entire story, and therefore, I no longer have the desire to write it. I know what’s going to happen, so there is no thrill. I can no longer go along for the ride. I can no longer watch as the story plays out, the characters doing their thing and me writing it down like an ancient scribe.
It’s a total bummer.
For me, it is always about the story. It’s always about the entertainment I get out of writing the stories. It’s also about the entertainment I hope you get when reading the stories I write. If I lose interest in the story, how do I expect you to keep interest in it? So, you see, plotting is a bad thing for me.
I do believe in situations. You want to put your characters in situations where they either get out of it alive or they don’t, and if they do get out of it, they either change for the better or for the worse. Situations. Not plot.
Stephen King said in his introduction to Salem’s Lot, that storytelling is as natural as breathing and that plotting is the literary equivalent to artificial respiration (not an exact quote, mind you), and I believe he is correct. Storytelling should feel natural. Not stifled. Not rushed. Not necessarily grammatically correct, either. Storytelling should be as natural as having a conversation with someone you are close to. Plotting doesn’t have that natural feel.
So, I don’t plot. I don’t enjoy it. I lose interest in stories when I do plot them out. And to prove it, I can look in my notebooks and see hundreds of ideas for stories. Many of the idea stories were written. But then I can see twenty-five pages of plotting—from beginning to end with the guts all there in the middle—and none of those stories have ever been written.
I don’t fault those who plot. If it works for you, then do it. It just doesn’t work for me. So, if you want to come along with me, take a ride with me and my characters, then just know I’m going for that ride as well. And maybe we can all enjoy it as the stories unfold.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…