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So, I'm trying the planning thing (and still trying to do my flatplans for various books).  I'm wondering would one do the character worksheets first and get to know your characters or do you just go into the flatplans and try to figure it out?  I'm rewatching the 6th of August's Plotting for those who hate plotting to do my flatplan...but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed... Not sure what to do... 



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  • Hi Brigitte. I guess all of this is very much dependent on how you work and where your ideas come from. With my current WIP I started with setting as I often get inspired by places. In this case it was a big old rambling house overlooking the sea. I wanted to set it in the 1970s and had an idea of plot but then I put everything on hold a while and as you said, worked on the characters - hundreds of questions for each of the main characters which then gave me an idea of their backgrounds and that then fed into the plot. I did lots of research on the era which is also feeding into the plot. I then wrote a first draft but now I've done some research into myths and am feeding that in to the rewrite ( quite a big change)

    Basically, yes, I did a lot of work on the characters before I plotted but I know others just develop the characters, put them in a dilemma and write. It's what works for you. 

    But if you're stuck, yes try getting to know your characters for a while - you might find they inspire something plot wise tits never considered.

    And I do sympathise with your plotting dilemmas - thinking of the big picture makes my head hurt!

    Good luck

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    • Feeling overwhelmed is the brain's way of saying 'we've wandered too deep into the forest'. Sometimes the brain needs a break from too many 'trees' (individual specifics). It needs time to relax and look at the ocean (big picture).

      I'm certainly no expert on plotting, but my common sense tells me that while there may be many guidebooks, each traveler has to plan their own route -- and that takes time. Maybe you have to try a few imperfect paths, chop down some brambles, before you find the your way.

      Maybe take your conscious self for a walk in nature, and let your subconscious self do its job (plotting). The subconscious always gets there in the end if you give it time and space.

      And, if none of this helps, at least you'll have had some 'oxygen to the brain' exercise which will better prepare it for when the more practical tips comes along.

      All the best.

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      • Definitely good to walk away if feeling overwhelmed, even if it's only to work on another project 😀

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        • Mixed metaphor aside, Heather is right. Everyone's path through the forest of plot design is different. It really depends on the type of story you are telling. What is most important to you?

          Do you have characters in mind, and want to see what becomes of them? Do you instead have a bulleted outline of events that need to happen to tell a cohesive tale?

          Or maybe you're somewhere in between, where your best approach is to do a light pass of each, like a slow form of ripple-shuffling. Spending time on one side learning details that will inform the other, then do the alternate pass. Repeat and rinse until it all comes together. (You'll eventually find there are more than two sides, but details,)

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          • I think I'm most like the last - a bit of a mixed bag! 😂

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          • I agree with Heather, everyone is different and there's no right way to do it. In addition, taking breaks is necessary. You can do a character worksheet before or after it depends on you, I personally prefer after, because when i write, I'm just having fun. No over thinking, no over analysing and certainly no editing as I write. It's important to remember why we write, we write because we love it, because we're passionate about the magic of story telling, and wanting to do everything right and perfect can make you forget. So you can allow yourself to not worry about all that and write when you've got your story/plot down. On the other hand, when telling a story it's important how you tell it, so someone may be mortified by what I've previously said (“no editing as you write? Really?”) so it all just depends on what works for you, don't overwhelm yourself, there really is no right way. So to answer your question, I don't do character worksheets till I'm editing, but do what works for you

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            • Hi Brigitte. Like you I can very easily find myself overwhelmed by the sheer size and complexity of 'the plot' and the way each character has to interact with it, and each other, and the theme, and the various arcs, and the sub-plots, and the structure.... and on and on. It makes my head spin! 😲 

              I started with one central character, a theme that was driven by that character, and the germ of an idea for a plot that would (I hoped) illuminate that theme while providing both an external and internal challenge for the character. All the other characters, subplots and the rest of the detail have slowly coalesced over time. It's been a long journey, sometimes joyful and sometimes painful... and the end is still not in sight! There are still days when I feel like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill every day. And I've practically bankrupted myself through buying post-its!

              Lots of good advice from the other commenters here. One thing that might be helpful from my own perspective was an insight from a writer's YouTube channel, which I found incredibly useful when 'the plot' became overwhelming. That is to stop thinking about the whole thing in its entirety and break it down into smaller, individual plots running in parallel. 

              So, in my case, there's a 'mystery' plot - the MC is presented with a puzzle, a mystery 'McGuffin', the secret of which she has to solve, and the readers along with her. There's a 'revenge' plot - the MC needs to find and pay back someone who did her wrong in the past. There's a 'redemption' (or 'rebirth') plot - the MC has to grow and conquer her own flaws and misbeliefs to achieve contentment. And there's a 'romance' plot - the MC and another character have to chart their course from uneasy and reluctant allies to friends and eventually lovers.

              Those plots are running alongside each other. They often intersect and affect each other of course. But they can be thought of as separate, smaller plots... and are perhaps therefore less daunting.

              What I've done is to plan the structure of each of those plots through the course of the book and work out (roughly) what has to happen at various points to achieve the completion of each of them. So when I get up in the morning and approach the day's writing I'm not overwhelmed at the thought of weaving multiple strands and character threads into a huge complex tapestry. I say to myself: "today I'm going to concentrate on 'this stage' of 'this plot'" - which feels like a much smaller and manageable task. And gives me a nice feeling of progress at the end of the day if I've achieved it!

              Hope this helps and good luck!

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              • This does help!!!

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                • That's really good advice, Jon. Sometimes my head feels like it's going to pop with the amount of stuff it's juggling 😂

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                • Some great advice here from the troops in the trenches.

                  Rick’s ‘shuffling’ (despite his remark about my mixers – I suspect he takes his whiskey straight), reminded me of the feeling of learning to plot/plan. You shuffle many concepts, and then you find yourself with a ‘murder card’ in this hand, a ‘strong-female-character card’ in the other hand, and a ‘POV-misbelief card’ in… wait – time for Blu-Tack -- and a bunch of cards stuck to your bedroom wall.

                  It helps to reduce all the (most relevant) advice into your own checklists: Chapter planning checklist, editing checklist, character tics checklist, and so on – whatever stops the little blighters running around your head. Then, when you need to be you writer self, tell your planner self you’ll go through the checklists with them later. Fortunately, we are no longer writing in stone so we don’t have to get it all right first chisel.

                  And, the fact that you care enough for it to bother you is probably a good sign.

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                  • I taste bitter an order of magnitude more intensely than others do.

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                    • That is fascinating. It reminds me of the woman who could see in ultra-violet and only found out she saw the world differently to other people by accident. And this is not entirely off topic, because it is different levels of activity in the different areas of our brains which mean that one writer will struggle with plotting while another will find plotting easy but struggle with inventing characters.

                      The good news is when it comes to the skills required for writing, the brain can restructure itself. It would be interesting to see the scans of how a brain changes (which areas become more active) as someone becomes a more and more proficient writer.

                      But as just one session of brain scans cost $3,500, I doubt any aspiring writer could afford it.

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                      • When I've got a couple million to spare…

                        But different brain structures is something I've been harping on about for ages. Specifically when people go on about the need to show emotion in one's writing: the claim that everyone (or even the majority) experience and manifest emotion the same way. The truth (proven through loads of experiments) is that people are terrible at reading other's emotions. The chance of correctly guessing how someone if feeling, purely from body language, is 25%; that can rise to 33% if you know the person you are assessing very well.

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                      • I find the advice on K. M. Weiland's site really helpful. This page here contains links to all of the 'components' of a story's structure she alludes to: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/secrets-story-structure-complete-series/ At first glance, her thoughts on story structure can seem overly prescriptive, but I find her tips and guidance really helpful. When I actually started planning my current WIP to fit in with these segments, it helped me to think about the 'functions' of each scene, how far apart they 'needed' to be within the overall story, and all sorts of things like that. Check it out, see what you think :-)
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