Tuesday, February 9, 2010

First Inkpot Question - Developing a novel plot and structure

Dear Inkpot,
What process do each of our Inkpot bloggers go through when developing the plot and structural design of a novel? Do any of you loosely outline or work out characters, theme, plot and structure in separate analytical pages or storyboards as you write?
Many thanks,
"Finding My Way"

Ron says:
I never outline or make much of a plan. I make up an interesting character, usually with an attitude, and let him or her loose. First drafts are low on description and setting and big on dialogue. In a sense I let my characters talk their way through the story. That part is fun. Then the work gets a little harder. But I've got 150 pages or so of fairly entertaining drivel.

Claire says:

After a long hiatus from novel-writing, I returned to the form last year. I had sense of plot and the ending with my earlier novels during the first draft. They all deepened and evolved during revision. This time around I am writing an historical fiction novel based on a real girl. I am using a few light strokes from her life and research on the historical events. In my first version I started with a different main character and after drafting about 1/4 of the story with loose outline in mind, I realized her voice wasn't working, wasn't unique enough to that period and region.

I decided to use a real girl from that period, but have been delighted, even surprised to discover a stronger fictional voice. She added new dimensions to the plot and with her stronger voice helped me flesh it out more. Now in revision, I am working to deepen Ottie's characterization and figure out her inner narrative arc. The inner arc has always been my challenge and through revision of that, my plot is getting stronger, too, as Ottie participates and reacts to events.

Lisa says:
For me, the initial draft has to come without much premeditated thought and no revision until there are enough pages to make me feel as though I have something worth saving. Usually I begin with a sense of a character who has something she is going through and, like Ron, has plenty of dialogue so that she can converse her way through scenes.

I don't develop the plot or even much structure until I have some sense of who and what I am writing about, i.e. at least 100-150 pages. Then I will spend most of the time rearranging chapters to play around with the order of things (cutting much in the process and adding some). I might do a plot outline at this point, but minimal--mainly going over timeline and sequence of events to see if there is a plot and where the gaps may be. I will do a storyboard with a brief line or two (as I do with picture books) trying to make some sort of system out of number of chapters, chapter length, etc.... I find all this interesting and kind of fun as it doesn't always lead where I expect. There are always surprises.


  1. So I wonder who asked THIS question??? Thanks for sharing!

  2. Danette--I haven't done much with storyboarding, but I'm still for trying waterboarding on those characters, if necessary. That'll make 'em talk!

  3. It seems what you are all do, in some form, is to just plunge ahead and allow the first draft to take the form it will.

    In the revisions you will uncover the mess, like a dog finding an old bone.

  4. Hopefully, yes, we all find the old bone in the end, and remember what was good about it all over again!

  5. I'm pretty much the same. I need to discover the book by writing it. Sometimes this works well and sometimes its a total disaster, but I can't seem to do anything else. I just had to write a synopsis on something I have 75 pages of, and I was miserable. I felt like I was crushing something. In the end, it was probably helpful, but I hated it.