Tuesday, October 15, 2019

It's All About the Biscuits

I’ve been enjoying our current discussion on plot. Two terms that many writers use to define their writing process include plotters and pantsers. Pantsers let the characters guide the writing, i.e. they fly by the seat of their pants. Meanwhile, plotters plan out their novel to the nth degree.

I offer that the writing process is more organic than a simple either/or choice. The reality is, the plot is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. The nuts and bolts, twists and turns, reversals, supporting a sagging middle, creating an ending that no one saw coming. That’s hard work. That requires planning. Because I tend to integrate historical and mythological aspects to my writing, I find that I need to outline to keep track.

And yet, too much of a good thing can quickly turn sour. Too much planning creates stiff characters, and a stiffer plot. Creativity becomes trapped as writers try to fit characters into pre-destined squares and circles.

Agent Donald Maass states that a story needs to "provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers.” According to Maass, the language of emotion makes the difference to a reader’s experience. And plot can be understood as a sequence of emotional milestones... “Because that’s the way readers read. They don’t so much read as respond. They do not automatically adopt your outlook and outrage. They formulate their own.” In other words, as Maass suggests, you are not the author of what readers feel. You are the provocateur of those feelings.

The character’s motivation creates empathy between herself and the reader. After all, readers can empathize with a character’s motivation, especially if it’s like her own. Readers want to know why these characters are in the mess they are in. They what to know what happens to these characters.

If the plot is what happens to your character, then her motivation is the force that sets the plot into motion and keeps it going. It’s why she goes after her goal in the first place.

Everyone’s process is different. A pinch of pantsing, a dash of plotting. What works for one story may not work for the next. What’s important is how well you combine the ingredients to create a strong story.

Because, in the end, it’s always about the reader and if the reader engages with your character and follows her journey. Readers can’t tell whether your story was pantsied or plotted. Readers don’t see the biscuit-baking, only the biscuit.

And if the biscuit is good, they won’t care about the baking.

--Bobbi Miller

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