Thursday, October 9, 2014

Plots: Beat the Cat

By Steve Weddle

We were in junior high when I saw my first penis.

Well, not my first, of course. So my second. My first penis that belonged to someone else.

We'd finished football or baseball or track practice and were in the locker room. Someone wanted to see whether Toby Leonard had gotten his pubes yet. He was small and nerdy and, for whatever disturbing reason, the consideration of his pubic hair was something writ large throughout the soles of  a couple dozen boys. So his sweatpants were ripped down to his ankles by Arnold Baker.

On that day, the day that Toby Leonard received a new nickname, I made two vows. One was to always be in possession of a sturdy belt. Two was to swear off pantsing. And so, in honor of Toby "Long Dong" Leonard, I share with you now my thoughts on pantsing and plotting.

My thoughts: I don't do either. Hunh. OK. My thought, then.

Plotters and pantsers are jealous of each other. "Oh, I wish I could do it your way," each will say. That's because whatever way you're doing it is a giant suppositorial asspain. You're thinking the other way, any other way, has to be easier. Because the way you're doing it is too hard. Too complicated.

Takes too long. And you're probably right.

I'm not a plotter or a pantser. I'm a plodder.

I try my best to figure out the main character and go from there. For example, in Country Hardball, I tried to figure out what Roy Alison wanted. Then I worked on the conflict, as if these were real people in a real world. So my planning process was essentially two-step: 1) Figure out what he wants and 2) Kick him in the balls.

(This post has more wiener references than a Labor Day cookout at Ron Jeremy's house. My apologies.)

But how I write is none of your damn business. So let's talk about some cool resources for plotters.

If you're stuck for plot points or structure, you can take a look at these Beat Sheets. (Have some more plot sheets.) From that galaxy guardian movie to the Disney movie about the snow queen, you can download the "beats" to these movie and substitute your own characters' names and VOILA you have your book. (I'm not certain whether this is actually a workable process.)

Earlier this week, Kristi mentioned the Save the Cat book. I've mentioned this before at DSD. That book and the site itself have some solid resources you can play around with. If i'm stuck at a point, I'll goof around by reading through all of that and letting it knock something loose in my head.

If I get caught up in too much of that though, I feel as if I'm watching the same movie over and over. Oh, we're getting close to the end of Act the Third. Must be time for the No Turning Back scene and and and there it is. Yup.

It's when you can see the plotting instead of the plot that I worry.

See, and this is just me talking here, if you're going to stick too closely to this kind of plotty thing, you're going to be using the same movement a thousand other people just used last week. For me, I find that hopping in and out, getting what I want and moving along, is what works best for me with this plot stuff. Wait. Why are we talking about me? I thought this was about you. Crappers.

OK. Here's the thing: movement. Plots or pants or whatever, what your story has to have is movement. Pace and obstacles. Those things are cool. Get your character moving in the right direction and then kick your character in the crotch. "What do you want? Oh, this? Here it is. BAM! Hahahaha." See, to me, that's the important thing with plot and structure -- making sure it goes on.

I write slowly, because I don't owe anyone shit. When's this next story due? It ain't, Bug off. But if you want to write two novels a year, you're going to have to work out a structure that helps, you know? You'll have to find beat sheets and spread sheets and index cards that work for you. Take a look at the Blake Snyder stuff and if it helps, great. And if it doesn't, well you've always got 500 other blog posts on How To Write posted online each week.

I'm the character guy around here, not the plot guy. I'm not even supposed to be here on Plot Week.


Kristi said...

There is so much to love about this post! Just for starters, that is the best "lede" on a story EVER. (journalism lingo, right) Who could not read on when it starts that way!

John McFetridge said...

Labour Day Cookout at Ron Jeremy's House is next season's American Horror Show, isn't it?

Dana King said...

I'm glad to see you pointed out the rocks to beware of when one succumbs to the siren song of plot sheets and beat sheets and books on "Story" (capital S). Don't let the reader be aware of the plotting. The story should unfold to them as though it sprang fully-formed from Zeus's head. That's why I never use those guides. I don't trust myself not to take them too literally, even when I know not to.