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

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#21
I've realised I am a gardener. I was re-reading my Isbarakhaid notebook a day back, and realised that there was no need to give up on it - even if I don't already know what will happen, I can see the seeds of the end in the beginning. I just don't have everything in between planned out - instead, the characters (chiefly the city itself) continues to surprise me with new developments.


Here are some passages from a recent Tim Powers interview (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050207/powers-int-a.shtml)
that are pertinent to this discussion:

Well, my characters are like actors in a play I've written, let's say. During the performance I don't want them to abandon the script and start making up a new, ad-lib play! When the performance starts, my characters have no free will at all, though of course I hope they're good enough actors to make the audience think they have free will.
I've heard writers say things like, "My characters have lives of their own! Bathsheba the Snake Woman became real to me, and I just watched and typed in amazement as she carried on." Imagine one of these writers trying to get to the airport! "I wound up in Mazatlan, the car had a will of its own!"

But I let my characters have plenty of free will and spontaneity, and every opportunity to show me what they'd prefer to do, during the lengthy period in which I'm writing notes and trying to figure out what's going to happen and what the characters are going to do. I'll even write off-camera scenes and dialogues, to see what this-or-that character could do, and I'm forever—for too damn long, anyway!—considering every sort of alternate plot development I can think of, and ways to combine two characters into one or vice versa, or to make this guy admirable after all, or to have this guy be remarkable for not, after all, being covered with tattoos. When I'm finally done with all this, and have written the authoritative outline, I figure the time for spontaneity is passed, and I won't put up with it if some character tries to exhibit it. (Well, realistically speaking, I'll let a few spontaneous ideas sneak in, if they don't have an effect on the finalized plot.)


So I'm definitely a plot-driven writer! If I let my characters do what they want, they'd all just sleep till noon and be drunk by sundown, and the big action would be when they got evicted for not paying rent and couldn't get their crappy cars started.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#22
I was wandering through this forum one insomniac night, recently, when I came across this old thread. And since we've had a very large number of writers and aspiring writers join since then, I thought it might be time to revive this topic.

Since it's been three years, I thought it might be a good way to get things going to share any insights into my own writing that (I think) I have gained during that time.

One thing that has happened as I grow older is that my writing becomes more and more intuitive (and yes, I admit it, disorganized). I'm never dissatisfied with the final shape of the plot but it is a method that requires a prodigious amount of pruning and grafting. Also, sometimes ideas die on the vine. It's time-consuming and occasionally quite frustrating.

So why do I continue to do it that way? I think it's because I've tried so many different approaches over the years and this is the one that works best for me. In short, that it all comes of experience. I am, however, willing to allow that the real reason might be something less flattering to my ego.

And every so often I am swept away by the idea that my writing would be better and easier if I did do more planning. I make up my mind to outline, if not the rest of the book I'm working on, at least several chapters ahead. But I never get very far.

So whether I like it or not, I seem to be doomed to spend my writing life as a gardener.
 

JDP

Never told a lie. Ever.
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#23
This is an interesting topic. Like many of the previous posters, I think I'd be a combination of the two - I start off with a rough framework of plot, event order, etc., set out a few bamboo canes and a couple of trellis' and then let the story grow around that.

For me, writing totally rigidly to a plan doesn't work - things inevitably need changing as the story takes shape, I have new ideas etc. But at the same time, I need something to make sure that I get from A to B to C and don't forget anything. I have a basic timeline, just bullet-points of the targets that need to be hit for plot integrity. Exactly how I get from A to B is the organic bit.
 

chopper

Steven Poore - Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist
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#24
crikey, i think this may have been the first thread i posted to after i joined!

ok, i'm still a gardener of sorts, i think, but with the current WIP i've made a conscious effort to place specific limits on the story and the characters, as well as the world it's all set in - i've got a clear vision of how the tale must develop and how it will end, but the journey itself isn't mapped out yet and mutates a little during the telling.

so if this story is being grown & cultivated, it's been set in a nice big plant pot in a flatpack greenhouse and is being encouraged to grow around a big bamboo cane. much like JDP's, i'd guess.
 

Brian G Turner

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#25
I'm definitely coming down on the side of being a gardener. I get flashes of inspirations, and I can place those generally within a four act structure, even in notes for later sequels - and that gives me an idea of how plot might develop, and what back story is required.

But I'm finding it much easier to just start at the beginning, and try and follow a natural pattern/rhythm in the story, rather than try to determine plot in advance. Then again, I've now spent over 20 years thinking about how this series will develop, so I have a decent overall feel of major plot developments in the first place.
 

Brian G Turner

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#26
I like the way Terry Pratchett describes the process. To paraphrase: It's like seeing peaks surrounded by mist, and as you write, the way those peaks are connected is slowly revealed.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
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#27
I was like that with Abendau's Heir after a couple of decades daydreaming about it. I found it a very different - and more challenging - experience in the sequels and my standalones.

Nonetheless, I'm still a gardener.
 

Toby Frost

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#28
Somewhere between the two, I think.

I have always found plotting pretty difficult, and I have been rather careful to work out the plot of the work in progress quite carefully in advance because it's more elaborate than the earlier books. However, I find that once the characters are assembled and the end result is (vaguely) established in my head, getting to the end often isn't that hard because it couldn't happen any other way.

The best analogy I can think of is of building a number of wind-up toys - the characters - and pointing them all at the same goal and letting them all go at the same time. Because of the way that they are built, they'll move at different speeds and in different ways. Some might bang into each other and break. Occasionally something surprising happens, but by and large they do what they do because I made them that way. Or at least, that's the plan.
 

Travis Woodward

Maker of plans
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#30
I've always instinctively been a gardener, but never got as far as needing to prune anything because what I grew was a sprawling, stunted mess that didn't go anywhere. So this time around I'm trying to be an architect - perhaps I'll find that what I wanted all along was a house and not a garden.
 

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