Saturday, September 4, 2010

Plotting by the Seat of my Pants

I used to write by the seat of my pants. A single thought would trigger an idea for a story and I'd just start putting ideas on paper as they came to me. I wrote faster this way, but I'd often write myself into a corner. I'd get to a plot twist or black moment with no way to logically resolve the issue. Or, I'd work my way through the problem only to have my critique partners point out gaping wholes in my plot. I'd also frequently leave dangling threads at the end of the story. I'd leave a secondary character hanging or a question unanswered. Readers hate this. So do editors and agents.

Writing by the seat of my pants was faster on the front end but it was a logistical nightmare that required extra work on the back end. A story that took only three months to write often took another year to edit. And, as I later learned after years of submitting, fixing a problem isn't nearly as effective as preventing it.

Plotting a story allows me to see plot holes and logic issues before they become too big of a problem. If I create a story outline and jot down notes, I can fix plot problems before I'm half-way into the story.

Initially, I'd hand write my outline. But then I'd have all these papers scattered in files all over my office and I sometimes couldn't read my own writing. So, I opened a word file and tried keeping track of the plot and characters that way. But this was time consuming and not much better organized than using a pen and paper. So, I bought a computer writing program.

Now, I can not only plot out a story, I can keep track of physical descriptions and details of my characters so my heroine's blue eyes don't magically turn green. I can also keep track of turning points in the story and outline the details from beginning to black moment to happily ever after. It's even easier to give my characters goals, motivation, and conflict this way.

My hero/heroine wants or needs something because of this but can't get it because of that.

Sounds easy. Right? But not when my characters don't play along. And therein lies my problem with plotting.

As the story progresses, my characters take on lives of their own. Their goals or motivation change and I start stressing over the new direction of my story. Do I force them to follow the original plot? Or see where they'll take me?

If I go back to the original plot and try to make these new ideas work, I wind up re-plotting, which is a bit like writing another story. So, I follow the outline but let my characters stray from the original plot if it feels natural.

Following an outline is easier than writing by the seat of my pants but I've learned I have to be flexible or the story feels forced. And sometimes as I'm writing, the story changes course but I don't stress over it. I've learned writing is a lot like life.

Sometimes, things just don't go according to plan.

Out of the Darkness was originally entitled Blood Link but as the story grew and took on a life of its own, I realized the title didn't work any better than the original plot. But things worked out for the best. The Wild Rose Press published Out of the Darkness in May of this year. And now, I'm writing the sequel. The story is completely plotted but the characters have already strayed from my original script.

I guess I'm just going to let them have their way and see where they take me.


  1. Lilly,

    I'm curious. What is the writing program you purchased? Is it easy to use?

    Sounds like your characters have attitude, too. lol

  2. I use Write It Now Novel writing. I purchased it online from
    It was inexpensive and it's easy to use. And when I'm done, I can download my story onto MS word...but I've never used that feature because the program separates each chapter and I'm really bad about editing previous chapters as I write. But one day, I am going to use the program the way it was intended and NOT keep going back to edit until I've written a complete first draft! Honest.

  3. Glad to know you use a writing program. I just finished my first novel and after moving through the first two or three chapters I began outlining where the whole story moved. I'm a believer in outling - and I did shift the outline a bit. But I always kept the end in view. I knew how I wanted the story to end. I'm using an Excel spread sheet and am satisfied with that.

  4. I always know how my story starts and how it will end. It's that dreaded sagging middle that ALWAYS gives me problems! But having a rough outline has helped a lot. So has the writing program. If only I could stick to the outline. lol!