The phrase "hatching a plot" once had a sinister connotation, usually in reference to criminals. Not so for writers. Compelling plots and subplots with the strong narrative pull described in "Created to Compel: The Use of Prologue in Water for Elephants" (2011 August 8) need planning.
Here are common ways to hatch a plot, with pros and cons:
Outline: A chapter-by-chapter description of what happens that can be more detailed, or less, depending on what works best.
- Pro: Works well as a plumb line to see how your story is tracking, and where subplots could enrich the work.
- Con: Can be confining, especially if the writer sticks to it like glue even when better ideas arise.
Scene: A scene-by-scene depiction of the story that approximates a first draft.
- Pro: Works well for writers with a visual style (think screenplay).
- Con: Writers who like an escape can bog down, forgetting that this is still the planning stage.
Notes: A highly organic style where writers jot down the storyline in snatches, sometimes as they go.
- Pro: Works well for ideas still being formed, and for writers who like to revise on the fly.
- Con: It can be hard to see how the story tracks, especially if there's little order or organization.
Draft: Exactly as it sounds, writers pour out a first draft and fix plot problems later.
- Pro: Your first draft is done.
- Con: You can't always see plot holes and how well the timelines track.
Your choice of how to create plot will depend on what works best for you and the story. The selection may vary by story and genre; what works well for a mystery probably won't work well for literary fiction. To help plot creation work best for you, consider these tips:
- Regardless which choice you make, consult it periodically as a tether, not a noose.
- Keep updating your selection, even if you do a "save as" for each version; you'll more easily see the problems.
- Don't be afraid to consider the possibility of errors. It's better to find problems before you send the work for publication.
Resource: An excerpt from "From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction," by Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler, with an introduction by Janet Burroway.