My Philosophy About Plot

The more I read in On Writing, I was fascinated by Stephen King’s vision of writing – putting interesting characters into fascinating situations. Plot was something that evolves as you put the characters through your situations, not something that you spent hours and hours outlining what will happen in your story.

That was not something I ever expected to read. I always had the impression that writers did spend hours and hours of time sketching out events, plot twists, and shocking endings. They used sticky notes or 3×5 cards like old James Jesus Angleton at the CIA, but trying to find the perfect plot rather than the mole destroying American intelligence. Nowadays they can use programs like Scrivener to help map it out with electrons and magnetic storage rather than paper products.

I’ve got a copy of Scrivener myself. I’ve actually found some use for it, just as I’ve grown attached to Microsoft OneNote for keeping track of things.

When I do use those programs, however, it’s usually more like writing reminder notes to myself than seeking the right path. As much as it has taken time for me to get on with things and be a true writer, once I’ve gone through the effort of committing the story to the computer and/or page, I’ve already written it over and over again in my head. How many times? For every novel-sized work I’ve written, it’s been too many to count accurately.

It’s like I’m one of those old oral storytellers, the ones they used to have in Ancient Greece or the Celtic lands. They were the guys who used to travel from town to town, village to village, telling their epics for room and board, maybe a small bit of gold if they were lucky. In my case, the audience was myself, but every time I retold, the story, I’d hone it, add and subtract characters and scenes.

And the story of this main character for the new project, the one I’m working on now, that’s what’s really driving this new project. This is one of those people that reminds me of some of the great characters I’ve read in novels, people like Daniel Torrance, Zaphod Beebelbrox, Muad’ Dib, Lisbeth Salander, Burke, Mark Watney, Anita Blake, and many others I’ve encountered in my fiction reading days. They’ve proven over and over again that when you have people this dynamic, this interesting, you can put them into almost any type of situation and it will generate a good story.

And the character, the one that’s been rattling around in my head for a few years, getting refined and honed until I might know more about him than I do about most of the people in my life? That’s going to require a post of its own, and I’ll get to that next.