Plot Structure -- Are you a gardener or an architect?

Discussion in 'Teresa Edgerton' started by Teresa Edgerton, Feb 5, 2005.

  1. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    When you set out to write a story, do you approach it as an architect or a builder would -- planning everything out in advance, then following your blueprint and building from the foundation up, with perhaps an added beam or brace here and there where the structure seems to need it?

    Or are you like a gardener, planting a seed, watering and nourishing it, then allowing it to grow as it will, except for the occasional pruning and dead-heading?
     
  2. chopper

    chopper Steven Poore - Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist

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    a bit of both: everything starts on a small bit of paper that usually ends up being a map of some description. then other scraps get written down, refined, tossed away, joined together, and placed onto the map. and then i work on a blueprint...

    its not very economic.
     
  3. Esioul

    Esioul The weird one

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    Probably a gardener, but a very bad one, whose potatoes get ring rot and whose african violets shrivel up.
     
  4. polymorphikos

    polymorphikos Scrofulous Fig-Merchant

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    Gardener. Although I do spin basic elements together for background and such, then butcher them.
     
  5. tonic

    tonic Well-Known Member

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    Gardener

    I don't have the patience to plan out everything before no matter how good it will come out in the end. Of course there are some things that have to have a history like the main idea of the story. It may have come from nowhere but once it's in your mind you know how it started and the history behind it. Though usually I just write what comes to mind and I try to tie it all together, I probably do a very poor job at it though.
     
  6. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    You can mix both and create something akin to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. :D

    My personal belief is that stronger writing requires that the characters do a lot of the invention and creation themselves - not because you ask them to, but because they demand it of you.

    However, looking around at some fiction published these days, there is such a thing as leaving your characters to do too much of the work. Some writers end up seeming to write character for characters sake, and fail to reign in their characters to a clearer overall structure. It ends up as a form of "over-writing", where the failure to cut down on irrelevant scenes and focus important character elements leads to a diluted story.

    In the introduction to the unabridged print of "The Stand", Stephen King complains that a story needs substance and uses the example of Hansel of Gretel in his argument. But the story of Hansel and Gretel is ultimately about their getting lost in the forest, meeting adversity, then returning home and settling the root cause there.

    Unfortunately, some authors get distracted into writing huge swathes on incidental characters that actually add little - or nothing - to the immediate story.

    Robert Jordan might write about the power struggle in the local village - then the next one - then the next one - then the next one... - - - while George R R Martin could brilliantly write scenes from the perspective of the Hansel and Gretel family - their fears and motivations - as well as Hansel and Gretel's dad's best friend Dave...and his wife, the local miller and his dog Sam... - - - while Peter F Hamilton could spend the entire first novel just getting Hansel and Gretel getting kicked out of the house, before meeting the handsome young man in the forest who has spent half the book shagging beautiful rich young women.

    Great plot should be intricate and built upon the myriad of actions of the characters themselves, and any book can attempt different levels of plot complexity.

    But at the end of the day, a story is not about people doing ordinary things - it's about people facing the extraordinary, with the core of the story being on how they face and overcome (if possible) their adversity. Ideally, main characters should be few so as to keep the story neatly centralised - too many characters endangers a story to poor focus.

    Story requires some form of blueprint - a direction in which to channel liquid creativity. But the dynamic of great writing also demands that the characters grow in their own way around the initial blueprint, and add to it.

    2 opinion c. :)
     
  7. Princess Ivy

    Princess Ivy Damsel in this dress

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    In my early years of writing i must admit to the gardner approach, not being one to plan things. however i find that sort of thing gets very stale very quickly. The of course i went completely the opposite way and planned every detail to the last T, and lost the flow of the story.
    With the book i'm working on at the moment, i'm working on a dual method, planning loosly what will happen, then going back and working the scenes out chapter by chapter as I go. I find the structure of the basic outline really helps. As does planning each scene. but by only doing the scenes one chapter in advance, i'm able to keep things fresh in my head and not lose my place in the story.
    I have high hopes for it.
     
  8. cleasterwood

    cleasterwood Ra's Warrio

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    I'm a garden-architect. I start out with an outline but I also allow the story to change itself as it grows. This way it blooms into something on its own but I still know what path it must take to get the 'big picture' to unfold to the right ending. I use index cards with each chapter loosely defined and let the story lead me down the correct path.
     
  9. Stargazer1976

    Stargazer1976 Well-Known Member

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    Definately lean heavily toward architect.
     
  10. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Interesting answers, everyone. There are more gardeners here then I thought there would be.

    Brian, you make several excellent points (as usual) but don't you think that the pure gardeners who lose focus and go rambling off on tangents might simply be writers who would benefit from learning how and when to prune, rather than changing their style to something more architectural?

    Sometimes, you don't know what is going to be VERY important to the story and its resolution until you get to that resolution -- and then there's time enough to cut back most of the wilder growth.

    This can be very hard to do, of course, because some of the more unruly shoots may be beautiful and interesting in themselves, while contributing nothing to the overall story. If one is going to BE a gardener, one had better learn how to be ruthless enough when wielding the shears.
     
  11. PenDragon

    PenDragon ...has left the building

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    I'm a gardener.

    I plot mainly through characters but also have a meta-plot. The fictional world is the garden, the meta-plot the compost and I plant character seeds in that.

    My meta-plots are always very broad or basic, like my current meta-plot a world
    immeresed in constant local war, readies itself for global war, as a civillisation destroying cataclysym is about to strike.

    Once I've created my characters I just see how they react when the Meta-plot knocks at their door.

    Actually I think I'm an organic gardener :D
     
  12. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    You sound like my kind of writer/gardener, PenDragon.

    (Not to mention, I like your metaphor of planting the character seeds.)
     
  13. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    Definitely good points raised (and you're quite right about the pruning, Kelpie :) ).

    Seems like a lot of people accept that their characters will grow beyond original beginnings - I presume this is a sign of experience with writing, rather than a planned conscious approach?
     
  14. Circus Cranium

    Circus Cranium Well-Known Member

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    Last month I interviewed author Jeff Strand, and this is a quote from that. Cracked me up.


    ("I am a cruel, heartless dictator who rules his stories with an iron fist. I don’t buy the idea that “My characters tell me what to do!” If your characters are telling you what to do, then your computer is possessed. Exorcise it immediately.")
     
  15. aurelio

    aurelio author/artist

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    Hee he, Jeff Strand must be of the architect variety. :rolleyes:

    I always start off as an architect, and that pretty much holds, but their are definitely unexpected things that grow within the work as I write.

    I guess I'm more like... a chia pet.
     
  16. Ashen Shugar

    Ashen Shugar Sun Lao Kostya

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    It is this very difference in styles that has stopped me from writing. My logical brain tells me to be the architect, tp have a solid basis for everything. I find this can feel a little forced at times. And then I write and most of what took me so long to map out is thrown out as the story goes its own way. And then I review the writing and throw away most of the writing to get back on course; think I should just stick to reading...
     
  17. Circus Cranium

    Circus Cranium Well-Known Member

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    Indeed. He's also funny as hell. As for me, I do a basic outline and can see my beginning, middle and end, but if the plot twists and turns while I'm writing, I let it happen. I don't mind letting my characters pull the wagon, as long as I'm the one in the driver's seat.
     
  18. Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    "My characters tell me what they want to do," can just be another way of saying, "often, on mature consideration, I make changes to plot and characterization, rather than sticking with my initial half-baked ideas."

    Though demonic possession and/or insanity as an explanation certainly SOUNDS more interesting.

    Maybe you're an architect who includes a few planter boxes and window boxes in his plans, Aurelio? Or perhaps a lovely shade tree in the inner courtyard?

    I suppose there is room for a third kind of writer: the landscape architect. Once the hardscape is in place and the plant material installed according to plan, things are allowed to grow a bit.
     
  19. jenna

    jenna smiling politely

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    yep, that one's definitely me!
     
  20. aurelio

    aurelio author/artist

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    LOL - It's more like, I come out of the house and go, "Now where did that topiary animal come from?" My characters tend to surprise me at times and I start to worry that I've become schizophrenic. :eek:

    I took an improvisational acting class once, which I highly recommend for writers. It's not only a whole lot of fun, the training really helped me with story and character development. I think one's literary characters having a mind of their own is a simliar experience to improv.
     
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