I was listening to the radio a while ago and heard a writer talking about plotting a novel, a crime novel. He stressed the fact that he wrote out scene details on pieces of paper, different colours for different sub plots, and stuck them up all over the walls of the room he wrote in. He spent some time rearranging them periodically to see how the parts balanced and to discover what the order should be. He said, as well, that many writers use the technique.
All of this was news to me. I don’t plot anything, and I don’t use little pieces of paper to check balance or order. I do, however, carry a little book in my car, so when I’m stopped, enjoying a cup of coffee in some park or other, I jot down ideas that have been floating around, usually concerning a problem I haven’t yet solved. The results are often less than stunning, but the process seems to focus my attention on something I should pay attention to and don’t want to.
I’ve written novels without solving one of these problems. For instance, in my second novel, I don’t know what my murderer does with the clothes of the girls he murders. I won’t go into why the clothes aren’t with the girl. Just accept that they aren’t since my killer took them with him. I have to find out why he did that and where they went. At least he’d been consistent, doing that every time he killed. So there’s a pattern anybody could see. I see it alright, I just can’t account for it. I’m sometimes as much in the dark about my character’s motivation as any reader would be, and I’m the one who created him in the first place! I know, I know. that makes little sense, but there it is. So for me, plotting on paper beforehand or even during, doesn’t help. I let the character become who he is, sometimes in spite of me, and then I have to try to understand why his actions are as they are. It’s frustrating.
I haven’t solved that little problem of the clothes yet, and the novel’s finished and in its second edit. I’m still messing with it, of course, and I have to solve the clothes thing somehow. Since I couldn’t in the second novel, I had my killer escape the final attempt to catch him. That meant a third novel, which is now over half done, and I’m no closer to an answer. A recent plan was to have the character caught and when questioned about the clothes, have him explain it to the dumb cops. But that doesn’t get me out of the jam since I still don’t know why the clothes must go or where they must go to. Now, I’ve decided to kill him off in a large park somewhere, a big shootout and a really exciting ending! If I can’t explain his actions, at least I can distract my readers and maybe they’ll ignore that little point.
I’m not sure whether what I’ve been talking about has anything to do with plotting, but I feel that narrative structure evolves: no excessive plotting, characters sometimes out of my control, and problems, lots of problems. Somehow, though, things eventually right themselves.
I do have to admit, however, that I spend a lot of time rearranging sections of my novels to try to fit the stuff together in a way that will make sense to a reader. Maybe if I planned a little beforehand, I’d save myself some time and stress. But it just isn’t how I work, so I don’t plan much, other than a vague outline of what I intend. Sometime when I feel stuck, I’ll maybe give the panning thing a try.