2nd September 2011

To Plot… or Not

Recently, I started writing my first YA novel. It was going well, the words falling like raindrops when… I got stuck, or came unstuck, whichever way you like to look at it. Although I have written a novel, currently sleeping in a ring binder in my filing cabinet (it really is that bad) and have started a second (which will be much better than the first) I am used to writing under 1,000 words, mostly children’s picture books and poetry. Lately, this has increased for the first of the Buttercup Magic books, at around 15,000 words. The prospect of more than tripling this for a YA novel freaked me out just a tad, but armed in my normal fashion with ideas, pen and notepad and my laptop, I set to work, ready to conquer all.

Uh-hum! Not quite. And I think this is why. I am, I suppose, a holistic writer. I go with the flow and go where the words take me. I will begin with the merest hint of an idea and see where it goes with no real notion of where I am heading. That’s not to say I don’t edit. I edit like crazy, and have grown to love this process as much as the initial drafting. But there’s no big plan. While thinking about this, it occurred to me that my life is fairly much like that. To my family’s frustration, I plan as little as possible. I never know what I’m going to do for dinner, or what I’ll do in the spaces when I’m not working. I often arrive at places without half the things I need and often leave without half the things I took. I shop without a list and arrive home without the things I went in for.

Can you see where I’m heading? 10,000 words into my YA, I found myself stuck, completely and utterly. I was in M&S surrounded by luscious morsels and smells without the faintest idea which aisle to go down. The basis of the novel’s dramatic action, I realised, was flawed, and it was flawed because I hadn’t planned it. I hadn’t given it enough thought right at the beginning. How long I would have remained in this position, I don’t know, because in the middle of my angst I followed a link which led me to The Plot Whisperer – Martha Alderson. I spent the next two days shut away in the bedroom watching her bitesize videos on YouTube and making notes. In one of these, Martha talks about right and left brained writers – I am definitely of the right brained variety, resisting the linear that a dramatic action plot requires and instead heading into the character driven, internal plot with a vengeance. In the midst of this I also gained some insight into planning from Liz Kessler who uses notes and index cards, which she cuts up, to plot and plot before she begins to write.

So I put away my laptop, bought index cards and began a process which Blue Peter presenters would be proud of (although I have so far resisted the use of sticky back plastic and glitter…shame on me!) I plotted. I created scenes. Suddenly, I could see it – not all of it, but the first quarter, the beginning. It seemed to miraculously take shape before me, and I have now started editing and re-jigging those original 10,000 words. I have a long way to go. I still have lots more scenes to plan and big spaces of emptiness on my planner, but I can’t wait to fill them and have faith that this process will work! Do you know, I might even be a changed person… now what are we having for dinner?

Thank you to Liz Kessler for her help and for loaning me the above photograph of her wonderful plot planner.

For Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer videos on YouTube click here.

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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4 Responses to

  1. Louise Phillips says:

    Hi Abi, I really enjoyed reading this – it was very humourous and informative, a splendid combination in my book. The utube link was very good too, so thanks again:)

  2. wendyfreckles says:

    Really interesting stuff, Abi. How funny, I’m just the opposite – I am too wordy and hence this led me to want to write a longer novel to begin with. I tried to start short and it got bigger and bigger!!

  3. Hi! Thanks for commenting Wendy. You’re not alone here, I often find myself saying too much and needing to cut down. I’ve recently had to do this with the first Buttercup Magic book actually. Then at other times, I find myself added in hundreds, even thousands, of words on a second or third draft – hey ho! One of the many joys of writing is it’s unpredictable nature isn’t it?

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