Plotting: The slog work of writing

You know what's fun? Writing. Know what's not fun? Plotting.

It's not because it's harder. In fact - and you're welcome to challenge me here - the opposite is true. Plotting is easy compared to actually writing. It's the wire frame that you'll build your float on - or the plain sponge cake you'll decorate and make your own. It's the bread and butter, plain and simple, just-got-to-do-it part of a book.

It's easy to think of plots and work through what's going to happen in them. This, then this, then that, then surprise twist, then denouement, then ta-da. Story ideas aren't really worth much - it's stories themselves, written or told or completed or shared, that take work.

For me, it's the writing that's fun. It takes hours, and editing, and moments of going oh for goodness SAKE why won't this work?, but it's the thing I want to do. Plotting? It's the necessary evil. It stops your writing going mad, waffling away, without purpose - but it always strikes me as the unglamorous side, the boring bit you have to do before the real work begins.

I'm using words like 'boring', 'easy' and 'evil' here and perhaps that makes me seem more extreme than I intended. I'm completely in favour of plotting out a story before you start. What do you have otherwise? A narrative with no structure or device, and all you're left with is a winding, voice-driven description of things happening with no relation to each other. Plotting a story is good - I'd say it's necessary for any tale to be a good read - but still ...  am I the only one who wants it to be over so I can get down to the words again?

Perhaps you can tell that right now I'm working through some of the finer points of my current book's plot. Everyone's where they're supposed to be, and I know what they'll all do in the end, but right now there's a big, blank hole where the next few chapters should be. I have to stop writing, work out which roads they all go down, or else risk having to turn back much later on and retrace my steps, wasting time and wasting words.

So maybe it's not as easy as I said. I guess it's easy to say you have a plot, just like it's easy to say you've written a song if all you have is the tune in your head - but shifting from that to writing it down and getting to the end, that's the harder part. Where writing and plotting meet - where theory becomes practice - that's where a writer earns their stripes.

'I've got this idea for a book ...' is one of those phrases a lot of people use. And that's fantastic. If more people wrote books, that would only be a good thing. But there's a divorce between having an idea - even starting to write it down - and finishing a story.

So plotting, to me, isn't fun, because it doesn't really mean anything. A story idea isn't much, I think, until the work is put in to bring it to life and make it something more than a few disconnected thoughts in your head. That's my challenge for the next stage of this book - make the thoughts into things, and turn those things into words people will want to read.



  1. I quite like plotting! BUT nowhere near as much as I like writing, obviously. I don't think any writer does. In fact, I know a few people who DO prefer plotting and they never actually write the darned story! The thrill for them is thinking of ideas, not carrying them through, You have to really love the frustration-elation game to write.

    Some authors would say that you should have a set of characters and starting point and let the book plot itself as you go. I'm not one of those writers. I try to have characters, starting point, rough end point (open to change as I get to know my characters better!) and a few points along the way. I think I WOULD find both plotting and the subsequent writing boring if I had it all worked out chapter by chapter before I started.

    I reckon first drafts are to sort out plot, second to get it in shape and third to actually write well!

  2. A agree with you that letting the plot go along by itself seems like it wouldn't work - surely the whole point of plot is that there's a structure to bring a satisfying end?

    Love the first, second, third draft idea! Like polishing something up, each time brings it a little closer to shining