In my not so humble opinion, character’s and their distinct voices are strong among my writing talents. But plotting stories — not so much. Having been a pantser from day one of my writing career, the plot has been a second or third step. I carved a plot slowly, 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 trying 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. Our plan was to meet a minimum of three different times during the weekend. Each person 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 structure-focused questions 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
Scene-by-scene plotting was not accomplished this weekend. Each of us agreed that there had been a lot of value in the weekend’s activities. Looking at story structure, plot, was helpful to all of us. 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?
If you’d like more information on story structure you might want to read How to Construct a Solid Gold Story and Re-Visioning Your Story.
And don’t forget. Next week our first stop on my Going to Mars, Word by Word series. I’ll be commenting on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars
Lynette, I’m thrilled it went so well. You make me want to do it again. It’s such an awesome collection of creative energy.
Maybe you muse keep up with you. 🙂
You are so right, Ginger. The creative energy was amazing. Love the new ideas I have and can’t wait to get writing. Thanks for stopping by.
Timely post! 😉 Sounds like a great weekend of “writerly” fun.
I’m pretty private with my stories until they’re finished. I share them with a few select people—my husband, agent and a writer friend or two… But perhaps because I write thrillers with twists, “pants” rather than plot and I’ll admit it—don’t take well to others suggestions until I’m finished—I feel more able to let my story thrive on my own….just me and the page. I do love brainstorming, though, and envision myself collaborating on a screenplay or TV show with a team one day.
Thanks, August. Hey, you know what works for you. It’s not as if there’s one right way to do this writer’s thing. But I’ll tell you it was a whole lot of fun for me!
As fun as this sounds, I don’t know if it would work for me. I can’t seem to talk about my ideas as they’re developing and I’m not comfortable sharing until things have actually come together on the page. But perhaps finding a group of people you’re truly comfortable with is key. Glad you have that! =)
Nice to meet you, btw. This is my first visit to your blog.
Welcome, Ruth! So nice to meet you. I hope you looked around a little.
Like I told August, you’ve got to know what works for your. And you’re right. I have an awesome writer’s group. They did an amazing job of staying positive and supportive. Thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts.
sounds like fun. I love brainstorming and plotting with friends. There is one lady in particular who is awesome at this. She makes me think outside of the box so that I have ideas for my books. best of all, they’re good ideas.
It was a lot of fun, Louise. It’s wonderful that you have a friend who’s so good at thinking outside of the box. Thanks for stopping by.
I’ve recently joined an online critique group with some other WANAs and one of the things we do is bring rough plot ideas for the group to ask questions on and point out potential problems or holes. I’d never had this option before. It was frightening, but I loved it. It helped me see flaws I was missing, and I think the story is going to be stronger from the start because of it.
A Wana critique group!! What a great idea, Marcy. I find the process of questioning and exploring flaws always strengthens my story. When I can see how my story can grow and come alive, it’s exhilarating! Thanks for sharing.
I can’t tell you what perfect timing this post is for me. I am attempting to re-plot an ms at the moment. I was invited to do Fast Draft, but the timing of putting down a draft right this week, well I wasn’t ready. It seems I’m never ready when the group decides to take off with this venture. LOL! But I am still on the Yahoo email feed, so Gene Lempp said that he was going to try to Fast Plot instead of drafting. So I thought, hmm, maybe I can Fast Re-Plot my ms since I’ve had a terrible time getting back into the swing of things with all things writing. As you know, the aftereffects of burnout. So your experience will help me so much Lynette. Great to hear that your experiment was successful. I hope to have the same results. Thanks you so much for posting this and sharing! Have a wonderful holiday weekend! 🙂
Fast Re-Plot is a fabulous idea. So glad you found this post useful. And I think your comment has given me an idea. I could use a fast re-plot of one of my novels. . . . this’ll be fun! Thanks, Karen!