Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hello, My Name is Maureen and I am a plot driven writer

The reason I wrote that like an AA introduction, isn't because I think I should change... Or that it's something to be ashamed of... It's more because it's a very recent realization about myself as a writer and my process. Especially since I'd totally deluded myself into thinking I was more character driven. I actually slapped my head the night I realized this. (Sinead may have witnessed this head slap.) Here I was, thinking the opposite for at least five years.

Not that I think it's a black or white question. Nothing ever is. And clearly great stories need both character and plot, but even when I think about my women's fiction projects, as Sinead would say, "A lot of sh*t happens" in those books. So I think at heart, maybe I'm a plot driven writer. My storytelling instincts tell me to keep making sh*t happen, adding more plot elements to make things more difficult for my characters and keep the pace of the book fast.

Some readers of this blog know I'm trying something very different for me right now... A book in a completely different genre than I've written in before, that I hope will be the first in a series. And it's a very plot driven book... Very complicated and suspense driven.

And I found I had to get the major sequence of events down on paper, before I had all of the character motivations figured out. Particularly in regard to the romance plot. In fact, I had to go back and layer in a lot of that after writing the first draft. It wasn't like I had zero idea about my characters going in, and I do think I stayed true to them in the end and didn't make the characters do anything just to serve my plot, without giving them motivation, but all the main turning points in the character arcs come out of plot more than "reflection" if you know what I mean... And I must admit, in places, it was more like I knew what had to happen and I had to figure out what the frack was going on with my character to make him/her do that... Rather than the other way around. Which felt backwards to me in a way, but in the end, I'm wondering if it isn't just part of my process...

Again... not black and white... It just really surprised me that my approach for this book was so different -- or maybe more that I realized something about my process that had been there all along, but I'd been denying...

The three of us have been talking a lot over the past while about knowing our strengths and weaknesses and also knowing what we want from our careers. And I'm still so confused about this at times. But maybe this revelation will help me to figure it out. (Selling one of my fracking books, would help, too...)


Kimber Chin said...

I'm a plot driven writer too. I start with a premise and then figure out the characters to put into it.

That makes sequels challenging because for those, I have the characters and no plot. I'm not the greatest at working backwards.

Any suggestions?

Sinead M said...

Hi, welcome to the club... you're prrof that plot driven doesn't have to mean a growing death count.
And Maureen, what are you doing up at 8am.. did you not go to bed or something???

Anonymous said...


Hmmmm. Interesting post. Have you tried the plot board? I've been reading about it and wondered if it would be effective.

Has anyone tried it?


Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber... Not sure... I guess the only time I've been in that situation I just started brainstorming about the secondary character from the first book, what her story really was, and then what would throw her life into turmoil. I guess in that way, my ideas sometimes come out of character... But then the actual things in the story that make them change... is all plot.

Sinead, LOL. I actually posted that at about 2:00 am (or later). You can set the time of the post. (Look under options in the post box.)

Susanne... I've tried several things... And yes, I know that I need at least some kind of plotting device to help at the beginning. So in a way it's funny I didn't realize my plot nature before... But I can never outline an entire book. I just usually know the big turning points. or at least "some big plot thing will happen to make X realize Z". Even if I change what the big plot thing is later... That's why I don't buy the plotting vs pantsing thing as black and white either. At least not for me.

Margaret Moore said...

I concur on the plotting/pantsing thing. Although I don't plan the entire route, I have to know where I'm heading.

I don't think there's a black and white when it comes to plot or character as your prime motivator. The key to me is to make it seem as if those particular plot events are the direct result of those particular characters' decisions and personalities. So if I want something specific to happen in my story, I make sure to give the characters the background and personalities that would make it believable that they'd find themselves in such a situation, doing those things and acting that way.

Maureen McGowan said...

I completely agree, Margaret... I think my realization was that when I run into problems, I sometimes change my characters to fit my plot, rather than change my plot to fit my characters... but it is not black and white. I do both. It's just that I was so convinced I always started with character, but this book has made me see that my instincts kind of go the other way... And when I change the character midway, it's hard, because then I need to rewrite the book up to that point so that the character is consistent... I make a lot of work for myself by not doing enough planning, perhaps. Next time. Every books an education, right?

The realization came one night when someone in our group was facing a problem in their story, and Molly's solution was very subtle and character based and Sinead and I offered suggestions like: "kill someone" "blow something up". LOL. That's why Molly's so good in her genre... And why Sinead and I are both doing more suspense oriented things right now...

Margaret Moore said...

Just to play devil's advocate, couldn't you do both? :-}

Anonymous said...

Thanks Maureen,

When one considers the creativity of writing, I can see where the plot board can be of limited use, but I can see where it visually helps instead of staring out a window...kind of nudges one back to the plot.


Sinead M said...

I think Margaret might be onto something.
Can we do both?
I think we can, and the best authors do both, but my first instinct is plot and at times, I have to step back and really think how I'm going to approach something from a character driven perspective.
I think plot versus character driven is the first choice that comes to mind.
Mine sadly is to kill a character..

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hey -- sorry guys, I have been killer killer swamped (reading the new JR Ward book but don't tell my husband or editor that!!)

I think this comes down to when do you do the work. Do you do the work in the preplanning? Outlines and plot charts etc... or in the editing - making sure your character stuff and plot stuff jive.

Not to say that we don't do lots of work on both - but I am trying to do more up front with my next few books because I think it might be more efficient - knowing what will happen and where characters have to go should help in those sucky middle chapters - where I stall and stall and waste time.

And frankly, Maureen I think the size and scope of your current WIP - you can't make any lasting assumptions about how your process has been effected - it's what happens next and how you work on the next book that will tell you, I think.

every book is an education and as for the plot charts etc... man, whatever gets you working. I'm ready to light candles and chant if it helps the page count.

Maureen McGowan said...

LOL, Margaret. I'm sure I do.

Amy Ruttan said...

I turned plotter. I did.

I used to be a panster, but now since selling to EC and trying to keep my name in the reader's radar I find I have to plot to survive.

Really, I'm glad I changed. It's a pretty basic plotting on a whiteboard, but it's really helped me focus.

As for your fracking book, I have no doubt it's coming for you Maureen. You're one talented individual. :)

Susan Kelley said...

I think most authors are some of both, but for me writing in various genres, I do it differently for each. For me, romance is about the characters and their development. In my other life as a fantasy writer as Susan Gourley for Medallion, I'm definitely a 'plotter.' My fantasy series there is five books long and I knew the end with the first words in the first book. Does anyone else work differently when they work in different genres?

Maureen McGowan said...


I think you hit on why this was such an epiphany moment for me, even though clearly I do both...

It's because it was the first time writing in another genre -- a genre that demanded much more plotting.

And as Molly said, things could change dramatically for the next books in the series (assuming I get to do the series... fingers crossed, everyone)

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