Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Plotting for Pantsers 4 - Reviving conflict

The essence of a good scene, chapter, or novel is conflict. Vivid descriptions, evoking mood, and introducing a quirky character all have their places, but stories are driven by the clash of opposing forces.

A good plotter plans these out ahead of time. Often, just as a reader experiencing conflict can't wait to see what happens next, a plotter is driven to get that next scene on paper so he or she can experience the already mapped out conflict.

Pantsers may have conflicts emerge from the strong premise or from a collection of traps they built unconsciously into the story. An odd couple of characters may strike sparks every time they come in contact. And, since our lives are naturally filled with conflict, a dedication to truth and authenticity in fiction can cause conflict to bubble up.  All of these -- selecting a good premise, putting starkly different characters together, and writing honestly -- should be part of the pantser's pledge. Every time they sit down to write, these three should be already in progress, motoring away in the background.

Unfortunately, pantsers may be immersed in distractions (those vivid descriptions, moods, and quirky characters, not the temptations of Web surfing) or drawn to the weak conflicts of irritation and complaint. Both of these lead to a malaise that grinds the writing process to a halt. Realizing that you are distracted or bored is the first step. (Often, reading the last few paragraphs or pages confirms the problem. If it is painful, conflict may be lacking.) What do you do next?
  • Cut and cut deeply. Work backward, removing everything that is boring you from the manuscript, and maybe a little more. (Since this will be painful, set it off in a "cuts' file. Chances are that you'll never look at it again, but it feels like less of a loss if it isn't completely killed.)
  • Find a way to get interested again. I generally go back to the ten reasons I must write this story. (Everyone needs to have a ten reasons list.) I might also review my premise (usually expressed in a logline). Sometimes, I just read a passage in the WIP that I already love.
  • Write in a different way. Once I get the feeling back, I go back to composing the manuscript, but I don't pick up exactly where I left off.  I usually jump to a scene further on or put in a scene I skipped (or now realize I need) earlier in the manuscript. Often, I will change the mechanics -- moving from typing to dictating or writing in longhand.
If none of this works, something else may be in play -- confidence. Plotters are annoyingly confident because they have their tasks laid out in detail each time they sit down to write. Even a pantser can and should have a prompt, created the day before, for the day's work, but ambitious works tend to make those prompts melt away. How can a pantser build or restore confidence? I'll write about that in my next entry.

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