How old do you have to be to get that title reference? When did local news coverage stop teasing the late news with the promise of “film at 11?” For those wondering, there will be no film in this post, at 11 or otherwise.
A few weeks back on the Tuesday night #kidlitchat on Twitter people were divvying themselves up into pantser and plotter camps. Plotters, as the name suggests, are those who plot before writing while pantsers (and I kept wanted to say pantsters for some reason) would write at least initial drafts by the seat of their pants. I quickly identified myself as a pantser all the way, without hesitation, and then proceeded to suggest writers attend conferences with pins or stickers attached to their name badges readily identifying which camp they were in.
Then I thought about.
Letting my current WIP rest a bit so I can come back to revisions with fresh eyes I began thinking about what I was going to write next. I’ve had this story in my head for years now that I felt was ripe for the writing. Instead of looking at earlier attempts and notes I had taken on this project I sat down and began sketching out what I knew about the story, just some general plot points. I had a number of elements that I was shuffling around in my head and decided instead to shuffle them around in real space. I found a sticky note pad and wrote down what I thought were the top ten important plot points, plus separate notes for the first and last chapters, and began sorting and shuffling them. I went with a basic three-act structure and divided the sticky notes into where I thought they fell, then arranged them in order for each act. And there it was, a story outline, all plotted pretty as a picture.
But it didn’t work.
While the events built on one another there was no emotional arc. There were no secondary character arcs. Conflicts were barely suggested. There was a lot more to the story than what I had semi-outlined but without working those elements into the plot twists the story felt flat. I took my sticky notes and transferred the information into a new Scrivener file, a folder for each, and put it aside.
The next day I woke up with the idea that I was over-thinking the story, over-plotting it really going against my seat-o-the-pants nature by mapping it out. At the same time one of my problems is that first drafts are often so overwritten, filled with extraneous detail and backstory, that I was looking for some way to get closer to the heart of the story from the start. Without being fixed to the idea of working on this project further I decided instead to look over some recent information gleaned at the New England SCBWI 2011 conference about picture books.
Specifically, this post from Harold Underdown’s site regarding Picture Book Secrets by Margot Finke. Go ahead and take a look at it.
There’s a section there called “A Good Way To Plot a Picture Book” that, while similar to things I had seen before, really stripped the conflict of a story down in a way that triggered something in my head. Even though I was planning a YA project and not a picture book I used that little story structure as a guide and rewrote it using my sticky notes from the day before. Some points gained emotional focus. Others picked up subplots that mirrored the main story. After thinking about this story for five years, ruminating and tumbling the basic plot in my head and in notes, I finally had something that felt substantial and satisfying. I went back to my computer file and rebuilt the outline using this new guide. I filled in new conflicts and character connections. There was tension and pacing throughout. The story flowed more naturally.
All because I reconceived my YA novel as a picture book.
And now that picture book outline is the perfect armature for a plot summary and query synopsis, once I finish the story and can work out the details. I now have a road map where before I wasn’t even driving on paved roads. There’s still a lot of work ahead, and much of the story that I haven’t really planned out, but I’m sure my pants will help be fly over those bumps. I’m not ready to admit to full conversion, but I am interested in seeing if all this structure converts me into a plotter.
I’ll let you know when I get there. Film at 11.