Plotting like a “Real” Writer: The Grand Experiment

I have a confession to make. I, Amy J. Murphy, was born a pantser. You know… an author that writes from the “seat of their pants.”

It goes a long way in explaining why it took me about 10 years to finish my first book, what ended up (after much hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth) to become Allies and Enemies: Fallen.

Basically, I’d read what I wrote previously, tweak it, re-read it, tweak it some more and then set off on some tangent that made very little sense in the scheme of an overall story. If you plotted my course, it’d probably look more like one of those Family Circus maps with the dashed lines. In my defense, I got there in the end. A great deal of it had to do with career changes and the challenge of living with ADD. Ultimately, it did require intervention by a professional editor to produce an actual book. There was a lot of “killing of darlings” involved.

I realized that in order to derive the full benefit of having an actual editor’s time and attention, I should probably try to shuffle my loose collection of ideas into a structure that made sense and did important things for the story and for the reader. It began with baby steps. I created an outline. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just a list of bullet points that said what was going to happen next in a more or less logical progression. I treated it the same way anyone would approach a “to do” list: easy stuff first. That left big chunks of stuff that wouldn’t be so easy to write for the end. By the time I got to those “big ticket items” I was so tired of the story, that I nearly came to resent it. So, that didn’t work so well.

Maybe I was cursed to go back to pantsing my way through another ten-year novel. By this point, I had the first book completed and to my astonishment readers actually wanted to another book in the series. They wanted to know more about Ty and Jon. I had an obligation to those folks. I am nothing if not duty-bound. Even as I was writing Fallen, I knew that there was probably a “right way” to create a novel. That approached just seemed so boring.

There were terms like “pinch points” and “inciting events”. To me it felt ersatz, manufactured. It lingered dangerously close to the disciplines of self-publishing wherein authors were simply writing to market. There’s nothing wrong with making money on your hard work. But writing a book according to a formula to fulfill sales feels phony and soulless to me. (Fun Fact: This is EXACTLY how big 5 publishing works.) Any reader worth their salt will see that from a mile away. Science fiction fans are smart folks with discerning tastes. They deserve better than that.

There had to be a way to write the story I wanted without feeling as if I was using some sort of machine to make it. And here is where I start my grand experiment. I’ve got another trilogy in the works. The tentative title: Dark Spaces. And, yes, as you can guess from the title, it’s more horror/sci-fi than space opera. So not everyone that’s stuck through Allies and Enemies will dig it.

(I’m going to get Dark Spaces out of my system before I return to space opera. Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan for that one which is more like a Tattoo/Expanse mashup.)

Anyway, from this point forward I’m going to use a system and restrain myself from straying back into the way of the punster. The plan is to try out a new system (or at least it’s new to me) using Rayne Hall’s book, Writing Vivid Plots. I’m a huge fan of her Writer’s Craft series and so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

So wish me luck. And perhaps we’ll meet on the other side of this, dear reader.