Guest Blog by Sibel Hodge

To plot or not to plot? That is the question!

I often get asked the question in interviews whether I plan out my plot in advance before I start writing. Urgh, the dreaded P word, I think! I hate plotting. Absolutely hate it!

There are some authors out there who won’t type a single letter until they’ve got every inch of their plot structure finely tuned in advance. Some authors know their characters intimately before they begin writing, down to what they just had for breakfast. And I wish I could be like that, I really do. I think it could make my job a whole lot easier. But I’m definitely a fly by the seat of my knickers kind of girl! If I get too hung up spending a lot of time plotting in advance, I tend to lose my creativity. I start thinking about it too much and get nowhere. I think I must suffer from some kind of plot dyslexia, because as soon as I pull out a pad and pen and start trying to come up with vast plot notes, the words swim in front of my face in a blur. Is there such a thing as plot-o-phobia?

But do we actually need a plot? Well…yes. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil if you want to write a novel. Without a plot, it’s just words on the paper. Your plot should encompass all sorts of things: goals of the characters, conflict, crises, turning points, climax, resolution. And everything you write should advance the plot, although I personally think when writing comedy, you can get away with a few extras in there!

When I wrote my debut romantic comedy, Fourteen Days Later, I didn’t have a clue about any kind of plot, or characters, or structure. All I knew was that my heroine had to do a fourteen-day life-changing challenge, where she completed a new task every day. I knew my ending, but I didn’t have a clue what happened in the middle. Hmm…slight problem, I hear you say! Well, yes, but as soon as I started tapping out the words on the keyboard it all developed naturally. My characters invented their own plot as they went along.

So far, so good, but what about the next novel? Surely this must’ve been some bizarre fluke, and I’d have to actually think of a plot in advance for the next one. Well, yes and no. My second novel, The Fashion Police, was a comedy mystery. Because of the mystery element, I did need to know a few things before I started. Otherwise how would I weave in all the clues? So this time I did actually write an eency weency plot before I started. It was about three lines for each chapter of things I needed to happen. That was it, though, and I still didn’t have hardly any of my “clues” in there. But again, it all seemed to come together as I wrote it. Creative or crazy? I’m not sure which.

With my third novel, My Perfect Wedding, I was getting really stressed trying to plot. My mind was just a blank. I knew that Helen Grey (my heroine from Fourteen Days Later) was moving to Cyprus to get married, and that she got mixed up in a crazy plot to assassinate a local businessman and steal an ancient statue. But that was all I knew! I read about different plot techniques like the Snowflake method and using index cards or graphs to detail the plot, even plotting software, but the plot-dyslexia was kicking in big time! Robert McKee’s Story is an excellent book, by the way, for plotting. (It’s for screenplays but works just as well for novels.) But none of it helped me in writing a plot in advance. I wrote a few lines for the first two chapters and after that, nada! So once again, I just started to write and my characters invented their own story. The voices in my head just tell me to do things. Good job I write, otherwise I might have to be medicated!

My fourth novel was also a mystery, so again I thought I’d need to at least write some lines of plot to allow for my clues. And this time I did it! Hurrah, I wrote out my plot in advance, doing a storyboard of a paragraph per chapter of things I needed to include. In a lot of ways it was easier to write Be Careful What You Wish For in this way, but now I’m trying to think of the plot for my next novel and have a big stress-head thing going on because I feel like I should be plotting in advance.

In my world (which is sometimes scary!) my plot advances on its own, with one scene following on from the next. And what works for one author won’t work for another. Even what works for one novel won’t always work for another However you choose to write a novel or story is very personal. Who knows whether I’ll finally get to write an advanced detailed plot for my next novel? Watch this space and I’ll let you know!

I had the pleasure of reading Sibel’s new novel, Be Careful What You Wish For, and it was a delightful read. Visit her website for a chance to win that novel along with many other great books! Thanks for hosting today Sibel. xx Traci

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About Traci Hohenstein

Full time writer, beachbum, and mom to 3 terrific kids.
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5 Responses to Guest Blog by Sibel Hodge

  1. Sibel Hodge says:

    Thanks for having me! 🙂

  2. Don’t let the “plotters” grind you down! We’re all different. I personally start with only three or four overall ideas, two or three characters, and in my books so far – no idea of the ending. I write down those ideas and then as I start to write the book, I add to them and it becomes something of a plot outline. There is no specific structure – sometimes I’ll even put character dialogue or other things into the outline if I think of something. By halfway through the three books I’ve written, I’ve had a whole load of stuff in my “outline”. And still no idea how it would end!

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone recommend the method I use before. But it works for me. So if you have something that works, don’t mess with it.

  3. Lynne Stevie says:

    It’s nice to know that others have characters that teLl them what to write! Great Blog. Lynne

  4. Sibel Hodge says:

    Absolutely, Edward. I don’t always know the endings either! 🙂

  5. Ruth Harris says:

    Great post, Sibel! I’m right there with you. Plotting in advance = boring IMO. Good way to smother the life out of your story. Let your characters do the work for you. Trust them–and yourself–and they will!

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