EXTREME PLOTTER’s dilemma: following through to the end


Somewhere in the process of writing the book, whether at the very beginning (I did), or somewhere along the path because things seem confused and nonsensical otherwise, a plotter looks for the story structure, and makes some important decisions.

They are not cast in pig iron.

They can, in principle, be changed – many a novel has ended up somewhere else.

But the extreme plotter makes few decisions lightly, because it will affect everything else in the story if structural changes are made.

The point of plotting is to free the imagination to create

And it does.

A solid structure makes it easier for some of us to launch the flights of fancy that say ‘this is how this happens,‘ because it will fit the rest of the story, and connect the pieces that go through it to what came before and will go after.

But it doesn’t account for dragging your feet

If you find out you don’t want to write something.

For whatever reason, the plan is going to cause you angst.

You, the writer.

You are going to read this later and weep.

You are going to allow something to happen that you will forever look to and say you wish it hadn’t happened. In fact, you are going to create it that way.

When you planned what was going to happen to these people

you didn’t know them as well as you do now, when the setup that has been coming for 267,000 words leads to an action at least one of the characters will regret – and you made them do it.

It is still perfectly logical, from that setup, that they will do it.

But you don’t wanna.

The logic is unassailable.

You cannot get to the END any other way.

Believe me, I tried.

But now the actual deed must be done, the betrayal executed, the trap laid sprung, the consequences invoked.

It is daunting to someone who is happier when the world and people work their problems out in some reasonable way: all three main characters will be forced through the wringer, and each one will have to do something they don’t want to do.

I lost my nerve there for a while

For some reason, it helps to spell it out and then share the process and the details that cause me agita.

I have known this day was coming from Day #1.

As few details may change in the actual telling.

But it’s happening, and it’s my fault, and I am not lifting a finger to save these characters from their destiny.

I’ll accept responsibility, but they’re going to that end, kicking and screaming.

Thanks for listening.

I think it’s all part of life, real and writer’s.

Please weigh in.

8 thoughts on “EXTREME PLOTTER’s dilemma: following through to the end

  1. acflory

    Being part of this conversation has been a real eye opener for me. We’re all writers, yet each of us has a /completely/ different process. I write scifi so the tech sets the groundwork and tone, but the story is driven by the characters, and how they deal with that tech, or the unique situation caused by the tech. I literally don’t know how things will turn out until I’ve discovered who the characters really are, and that only happens as I write, and the small, seemingly inconsequential details appear.
    Not an efficient way to tell a story, but it’s the only way that works for me. 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author


      I also only know what works for me, and it has been an eye opener to discover how strongly I feel about some of the imperatives.

      When asked what I would tell my younger self, or a beginner, it is to know where you are on the pantser/plotter spectrum, because following the wrong teachers, as I did, makes it impossible to write.

      My teachers were clever pantsers who wrote disarmingly about their process, and I assumed it was the only way writing happened; I wasted years trying to be what I’m not.

      Then I discovered I work best with structure, and started building. My process is crazy, but it’s all about creating, maintaining, and USING that structure – and I like the results.

      Your process WILL vary. Obviously, DOES vary. Which threatens me not at all. Why should it? For each kind of writer, surprise!, there are readers who like it that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. acflory

        Hah! I wrote tech manuals and user guides for years before I dared write fiction. Always thought I was too ‘logical’ to write the kind of stories I loved to read.

        Then life happened and suddenly there were these thoughts and ideas I wanted to get out. So I did. They read like a how-to, nice and neat and…lifeless. That was when I turned myself into a pantster. But even there I’m kind of a hybrid. I do plot in dot points, in the middle, but the actual story rarely follows.
        What I find really funny is that most people who read my work think I’m a plotter because I reverse engineer the story to ensure that the flow is seamless & everything makes sense, right down to the last detail…but only after the story is ‘out’ of my head.
        What’s even funnier is that I thought you were a pantster because your story flowed organically yet was never predictable. 😀

        Go figure!


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Well, that’s the highest praise I can get from a pantser – membership in the clan, even if it is honorary and I don’t deserve it. Merci!

          I think many pantsers do what you do, clean up the product, add complications and side tracks, and make sure there are no logical fails.

          Except determined pantsers add very little. I think Lawrence Block doesn’t do much, from his own description. And he writes very entertainingly about not revising OR planning much, making it sound like the epitome of professional writing. Or that was my feeling about his compendiums of columns from Writer’s Digest about various craft points, which often included examples from his own novels.

          Our difference may be then that the story that is out of my head is very rudimentary – more like a series of broad steps I will camping on as I write, but with a known origin and destination, and maybe a few landings along the climb to turn and admire the view or change staircases.

          I may do vignettes, and a do have a complete rough draft of the previous structure, one that got a major rewrite in 2007(?) as I learned what I was doing.

          But from there it’s been: gather materials and supplies, polish the planned gemstone, set it in its place in the next setting in the necklace, and never look back – because all the stones are planned AND I only have the mental energy to work one at a time, so I have to trust the plan is solid.

          If you SAW the invasion plans and the maps and the lists and the file cabinets…

          Thank you for your kind words about flow and not being predictable!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. acflory

          I started writing fiction in 2000-2001 and didn’t publish anything until January, 2013. I call that whole period my apprenticeship. The single most important lesson I learned during that period was to believe in my own way of doing things. Not because things like ‘show don’t tell’ aren’t valuable, but because a slavish adherence to any ‘rule’ is bound to fail. If we ‘showed’ every little thing, the simplest story would be hundreds of thousands of words long. Just imagine – ‘She opened her eyes. She stretched. She threw back the covers and swung one leg out of the bed. Then she swung the other leg out and pushed herself upright. After that, she put on her slippers and….’ -rolls eyes- I’ve actually read stories that read almost as badly as that.
          The English language is a cornucopia of ‘tools’. As writers, it’s up to /us/ to decide which tool to use when, and why.

          Btw, I have a filing cabinet full of research for the first, unlamented ‘novel’. Some of that research informed Innerscape. Can’t bear to throw any of it away. lol

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris

    One of the reasons I write literary fiction is because I don’t want to be too tied down to a plot. Of course some sort of plot is still required, but my structure is affect-based, rather than plot-based. In other words, my “plotting” doesn’t involve the plot at all, but rather how we go from emotion/state-of-mind A to emotion/state-of-mind Z (passing through the points in between).

    In forms/genres/modes (whatever terminology one is comfortable with) other than literary fiction, the priorities are obviously different. If I wrote historical or crime fiction, for instance, I wouldn’t even type the title if I didn’t have a detailed, complete plot flow chart. As you said, minor changes could still be made — as long as they don’t require further changes. Otherwise, it can become like lying. You need to keep lying to cover the previous lie, and so on, until you reach a point where it all becomes incoherent and implodes. Or worse — I recall we’ve talked about this before — the author needs to implement a Deus Ex Machina device, which is a cheap trick.

    Just like with the lying metaphor, a plot can proceed with ad-hoc changes to a certain point (that is, even major changes can be implemented, even though it requires skill and patience to do it properly), but there comes a point where the plot “locks”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      And that’s where I diverge from literary fiction.

      I don’t have a Deus ex machina. I have a plot resolution where the hard choices are made, the risks are taken, and… I hope the reader feels it was worth the time.

      The affect is in SERVICE to the plot, and the resolution has been built into the beginning – or why start the tale? The characters were chosen – there’s where the author’s hand comes in – to make the ending as real as possible.

      I made my choices long ago.

      We each write what we need to write. THEN we go out looking for others to read it, too.

      Because we spend a lot of time with those choices, and no one is forcing us to write.



Comments welcome and valued. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.