In my not so humble opinion, character’s and their distinct voices is one of my writing talents. But plotting stories — not so much. Having been a pantser from day one of my writing career, plot has been a second or third step, carved into shape through one excruciating revision after another. So when I read Ginger Calem’s glowing report of a power plotting weekend she participated in early this spring, I was pretty envious. Short on budget and time, I decided to devise my own power plotting weekend with the help of my writers group. We have just concluded our first Power Plotting weekend and I think each of us would highly recommend that you try it yourselves.
Based on Ginger’s experience, I bought the book, Break Into Fiction: 11 Steps to Building a Story That Sells and read it. Then, read it again. I had a couple of email conversations with Ginger. Then I sat down with my writer’s group and explained what I wanted to do. I have to say, my writer’s group is a terrific group of people with a wide variety of education and experience. They were open to try as long as I took the lead on this one.
I used information from a number of sources: Mary Buckham and Dianna Love’s Break Into Fiction, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, The Script Lab and a number of other sources. I wrote up an agenda, forms that could be used to help develop your plot, and examples of how those forms would be used. We discussed these things briefly at one of our regular monthly critique sessions. We also discussed that we would try not to critique the ideas but to ask leading questions or make suggestions in as positive a manner as possible. No one would be forced to participate more than their personal comfort level would allow. We wanted to nurture these ideas so they could be grown into full blown stories. We decided to meet a minimum of three different times during the weekend, with the expectation that we would go home and work on our stories independently between each meeting.
We planned to meet at a restaurant for the first evening, then meet at our usual location for our monthly critique sessions for the rest of the weekend bringing potluck meals.
Most of us submitted at least a paragraph of a story concept via an email group a day or two ahead of time. Each time we met, each author had a brief amount of time to present his or her story concept. Group members asked clarifying questions and asked questions about structure of the author. It was enlightening to see how the others came at their stories and even more enlightening to have questions asked that forced one to focus the story better. I think we each left each meeting with our brains buzzing with information and ideas. Each time we met again, the author had a stronger and stronger vision of his or her story. Characters and situations were fleshed out. Structure problems were identified and in some cases resolved. Story logic was developed or reinforced.
It was one brainstorming session after another and it was glorious!
In the End and in the Future
Actual scene-by-scene plotting was not accomplished this weekend. But each of us agreed that there had been a lot of value in stepping back from the detailed critiques of manuscripts we’re used to doing to look at story structure. In fact, we’ve decided we’ll be doing it at least once every year!
This worked for us because we respected each other’s ideas and abilities. It worked because each of us was willing to do the work on our own. It worked because we attempted to meet each author’s needs for his or her particular story.
We will set up our time a little differently next time. The restaurant was too noisy and distracting. Perhaps next time we’ll end the weekend with a meal at a restaurant or a pizza party instead of beginning there. We will keep the format of the author presenting his or her idea and the problem he or she would like to work on. We’ll use the question / suggestion method of exploring the author’s story problem. But we won’t call it a Power Plotting Weekend, we’ll call it a Writer’s Weekend.
I’d love to hear what you think. Would you be willing to discuss your story ideas in a small group like this? Or do you keep your stories secret until they are on the page?
And don’t forget. Next week our first stop on my Going to Mars, Word by Word when I comment on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars