Three Dirty Birds Talk About Chuck Wendig's 25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep


In the run-up to NaNoWriMo, it seems appropriate that the Dirty Birds are taking on the chapter on novel prep in Chuck Wendig’s Kick-Ass Writer.

Ana: Number one made me think, hey, I had Lyme’s, it wasn’t easy. But then, neither is plotting. I’m actually really bad at it.

Zoe: I could never do suggestion number one, the traditional outline. I’m too worried that I’d have a I. and an a. and then a II., and then I’d go nuts because a smug, self-satisfying part of my brain needs for there to be a b.—at least a b.—after the a. I’d focus on figuring out a b….as if that had anything to do with the story.

Kate: Number one works for me for non-fiction. I remember doing that for papers in university. But then I tried to do that for a couple of novels (because you never give up after the first one doesn’t work, right?), and I killed both those ideas stone dead. I am NOT a plotter. At least, not a linear one like that.

Ana: I’m not particularly good at structuring school papers either.

Zoe: I’ve tried tip two: come up with the ending and work backward. I never even get as far as the “come up with an ending” part.

Ana: I wish I were one of those writers who know the end before they start.

Kate: I usually know mine pretty soon after the initial idea hits.

Zoe: I need to know the characters, figure out what they want, what their issues are, what else is going on…eventually I’ll figure out where they’re going.

Ana: I usually know the conflict early on, but often don’t know how to resolve it.

Kate: Tip #3 is how I seem to work. I have scenes I know are going to happen, scattered through the story, but I don’t know what happens in between. This is what I’m basing my outline on this time–I’ve written up a note about these scenes, stuck them on my wall, and now I’m just filling in the spaces in between. (Fingers crossed!)

Zoe: I kind of do a 3-14-21 thing. Tentpole moments, synopsis, then a little bit of checking with templates others have laid out. Nothing as detailed as the Save the Cat beat sheets…I like what James Scott Bell has in Write Your Novel from the Middle. It’s less overwhelming. So, that’s the combination for my plotting padlock: 3-14-21. 😀

Ana: *steals all Zoe’s plots*

Zoe: S’alright. I’ll make more. One thing there’s never a shortage of is story ideas. Geesh.

Kate: Lol. I really only do #3. Anything more structured than that and my brain shuts down. Which is really funny, because I’m such a control freak in other ways.

Ana: I just Scapple my way along to something that looks vaguely like an outline. And then I pretty much abandon it as I start writing…

Kate: I think the only other thing I do is the whiteboard idea, where you just stand in front of it and brainstorm. I do that on paper, because I can’t afford the size of whiteboard I would need to do my kind of brainstorming. Someday…

Zoe: I think that even if you abandon all the work you’ve done plotting when you sit down to write, you’ve still done important work in that phase that’s helped you get to know the story, and it informs your writing even if you’re not following that path you set out for yourself.

Kate: That pre-planning can go a long way toward figuring out what you don’t want to do. Even if you don’t know it at the time.

Ana: That’s true. I don’t consider it wasted time, because it would have cost me even more time to write those things out in prose before realizing they didn’t work.

Zoe: Yes! I’m really glad I 3-14’d the sequel for Roommate, so I could determine what path I didn’t want to go down. It would have been emotionally draining (on top of time consuming) to write 80,000 words of it and realize that it wasn’t what it needed to be.

Ana: I used to do 9’s often. Zero drafts. They always require rewriting, but they don’t take much time to write and have helped me when I was stuck. (Because it’s a given they’ll suck.)

Kate:I’ve tried that, and I just shut down on them. I wish I could do it. I’d love to try, just once, to see what it was like and figure out if it was a better way to do it.

Zoe: The times I’ve done zero drafts, they were much more like telling myself the story (with dialogue included, because <3 dialogue), and they do go fast. (Though I should note that I’ve never turned one into a novel. Mostly because I got stuck on the plot at some point.) (Also, because it’s like telling myself a story, my zero drafts have been in present tense even when I intended the novel to be in past.)

Ana: Haha, for some reason when I brainstorm on paper because I’m stuck, my notes sooner or later turn into present tense prose.

Zoe: Mine are always present tense, and I usually wish they weren’t when I go to write scenes from those notes, because I keep slipping my tenses at that point.

Ana: Yes, happens to me too.

Kate:My brainstorming is in present, too. Interesting.

Chuck’s last tip is, if all else fails, pants it! I’m not sure if I’m offended by the idea that pantsing should be a last resort, and that you should learn to outline no matter what, because that’s what proves your skill, or happy that he left that tip to the last–the penultimate tip.

Zoe: I think he might have been more clear if he’d said, “Because one day you’re probably going to need to write a synopsis, and outlining skills are really useful for that.” (But it did make sense to me that he left pantsing for last in a chapter about plotting. At least he didn’t insult pantsers or plotters along the way! ~sideeyes Stephen James~)

Kate: I feel rather…I’m not sure what word I’m looking for. Like the fish being asked to climb a tree. I’d love to be able to outline, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. I’d like to be taken seriously, as a real writer, despite my need to pants things, rather than be categorized as a dilettante (Stephen King aside. People are always so amazed that he pants things). And I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but obviously it does, because I’m trying to force myself to learn how to outline and not have it kill the story.

Ana: I think once you have finished novels on the market it doesn’t matter so much whether you pantsed or plotted them. I don’t see people complaining about the way Stephen King doesn’t plot.

Zoe: Yeah, for the most part, people can’t tell one way or the other (and if they can, it’s not really because it made your book better usually).

Kate: It does seem to be an industry thing. Maybe it’s a bit like being a left-hander in a right-handed world.

Ana: I guess I take a different mental approach to it. When I tell people I don’t plot, I’m actually rather pleased with myself. “I wrote this whole novel and I didn’t even have to plot it. Beat that.”

Kate: Lol. I don’t know. Grow a thicker skin, Kitty! (There, that’ll teach me. 😛 ) Maybe I just need to find the right way to outline.

Zoe: Orrrrrr maybe you just need to embrace your pantsing and wave your pants flag (that would be made of pants, right?) proudly?

Kate: It could totally be made of pants, since I likely wouldn’t be wearing them.

Ana: Let your pants-flag fly~

Zoe: Is that tilde supposed to be a very small pants flag?

Ana: It can be anything you want it to be.

Zoe: I would really like it to be a Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

Ana: I’ve never had one.

Zoe: And that is our tragedy for today.

Kate: We’ll mail one out to you tomorrow.

This is a great chapter for giving you all the different possibilities if you’re trying to outline and getting stuck. You might recognize something you do instinctively, and then be able to build on that. It’s a real reminder that everyone writes differently, and no one’s process is the same as anyone else’s.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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