Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA. Kelly gives each client personal attention, including editing. She’s in the top 10 of the Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, a two-time nominee and the American Christian Fiction Writers awarded her their “Agent of the Year” award for 2008. Her agency is Romance Writers of America recognized. In addition to her column here, Kelly also writes the "Ask An Agent" column for Romance Writers United newsletter
The Plot Coagulates
Plot: a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose; especially a hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose.
Wow! Kewl definition, ain’t it? Some of us may have a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose. (Mine? To slide the pre-published into the published category. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.) Hostile? Unlawful? Evil? (Me? Only if ya ask my ex-husbands. Sorry, already off-track.) Okay. Guess I’d better defer to definition number two.
Plot: Also called storyline. The plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work; as a play, novel, or short story.
The main story of a literary work. A plan. This is the perfect word for me to write about. I’m a huge advocate for plotting. (Not the evil kind.) I love to make lists, write my thoughts down in an orderly fashion, think of my schemes ahead of time. Gotta have a plan, a map, a direction. Absolutely.
Yep, I had my entire life planned and perfectly documented. I’d be a writer (even though I’d never taken a writing class or workshop). I’d write stuff everyone would love to read. (Of course, I knew what everyone wanted to read.) And I’d accomplish this right away. (Stop laughing and continue reading.)
First, everyone said I needed to plot. Okeydokey. No problemo. I’d get right to it. Hmm. I kinda knew what I wanted to write. Sort of. I mean, I had an idea. Uhm, how does one plot, exactly?
I tried flowcharts for plotting, wallboards and index cards, graphs, character profiles. I read plotting books. I read books about plotting. I read books on how to plot. Sorry, nobody home. Sigh. I couldn’t understand the conundrum. I’m a planner! I’m a plotter! When I failed miserably, I thought I couldn’t write. When I went to bed at night, fright set in. What would I type on the morrow? (I had no idea.) What if I got that fatal disease: writer’s block? (Flattened many an author, so they said.) What if I couldn’t finish a manuscript? [Yeah—I had no ending.) Oh, no! How would I write a synopsis? (Please forgive me for using the “S” word.)
Then I heard that heavenly phrase, that “tag” that set me free: seat-of-the-pants writer. Double sigh. Yes. Exactly. I could write, I just couldn’t write the way some writers write. (Thank you, God.) Everything made sense. When I tried to plot, all I could think of was how can I plan what my characters will do, when they haven’t told me yet? When I found I fell into the camp of some of the greats—Stephen King, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and more—euphoria set in. I could be a writer.
I got up every morning at 4:00 (no joke) and dashed to the keyboard. Well, what should I write today? I reread the last page I’d written the day before, and just started typing. Like magic, words appeared. I wrote 160,000 of those little guys in three months. (When I decide to do something, I don’t fool around—unless I’ve decided to fool around. . . .)
Was the manuscript horrible? Yep. Did I break every rule of competent writing? Yep. (Not entirely my fault. If I hadn’t wasted all that time readin’ books on plotting, I could’ve read books on writing.) Do I regret one minute of the time I spent at my computer? Nope. I loved it. Didn’t think I could live without it. So, big deal, I lectured the reader, head hopped, used passive sentences, and made a host of other gaffs. I wrote. We all haveta start somewhere. We all have stuff to learn. I learned how to write. Unfortunately, or not, I still can’t plot.
Okay, so this column was supposed to be about plotting, and it’s kind of about not plotting. What can I say? I am who I am. Hopefully, my column will spread relief into the hearts of some newbie writers trying to fit into a mold not made for them. (Ever try to put on a size zero when you’re a size two? Oh, since I wear a zero, guess I’m not qualified to answer that question. He he.)
Don’t get me wrong. (I’m often misunderstood.) I ain’t knockin’ plotters. I have the utmost respect for them. Dare I say I even envy them. I’m pro planning. Pro plotting. Would I rather have my story planned out, know every twist and turn, every breathless word my characters will say, beginning to end? Absolutely. Will it ever happen? I’m not a negative thinker, so I can’t say no, and since I’m not writing any novels at the moment, I may never find out. I can live with that.
Back to y’all, as this column isn’t supposed to be about me. (But isn’t it way more interesting when it is? Sorry.) No stats are available on how many authors plot and how many don’t. I once heard in a workshop it’s 50/50. Here I thought I was a nut, (actually, I am but not because of this), and I’m just like half the other writers out there.
I’m not sure if plotting is a talent one can learn. When I read a submission that’s mechanically flawed, but I can ferret out a strong or unique voice, I tell the writer that’s good news. One can learn where to place commas, to strike qualifiers and intensifiers (If you have no clue what I’m writing about, see my Grammar Guide on my site for writers: www.perilsofpublishing.com), and how to write active sentences. (On second thought, that last point is debatable.) But no one can teach a writer how to think up an idea, how to grow an imagination.
Plotting may fall into either category. I suppose some can learn to bend their style into that box. (Caution. My brother was born left-handed, and they tied his arm behind his back so he’d learn to write with his right hand. He didn’t grow up to be a serial killer or anything, but creativity to him is using dual remote controls for his plasma TV.)
So, is there room in the literary world for both types of writers? Apparently so, both types have written novels for centuries.(No, I didn’t say I’d written for centuries.) I believe writers should do whatever they have to in order to write (as long as it is moral and legal). For me, I think it’s safe to say the seat of my size zero pants likes things exactly how they are.