AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 10

This is my favorite part of Bell’s book so far, and one I never reached in my previous reading, to go by the highlighting. It’s exciting, it’s new, and above all, it’s practical.

It’s all about plotting systems. Bell talks about the No Outline People (or, as we like to call them these days, the “pantsers” ((By the seat of your pants.)) ) and the Outline People (the planners). What he says about the NOPs really touches me: the joyous spontaneity of the writing, the large volume of words that can be produced, and the pain of revision as you find a desert of plot full of the cacti of contradiction.

What he says about OPs also touches me, from the NaNoWriMos where I attempted to outline first: the reliability, the solidity of bracing the beams of plot, but the need to suffocate unplanned character antics back into The Plan. Perhaps it touches you, dear planner, as well. I’ll note that when everything is going according to The Plan, even larger volumes of words can be produced just as quickly as an inspired pantser.

And I love that he encourages each camp to try tactics from the other. The only constants he advises are the LOCK system and what he calls the “back cover copy”—which is really the pearl of the synopsis of the plot, which you then grow. And hopefully it’s great copy, because otherwise you may need to spiff up your core idea; if it’s not intriguing to you, it’s likely not intriguing to other people. Prospective beta readers can also be helpful here, I’m thinking.

Bell lays out some basic plans for NOPs and OPs, and so let me tell you which parts I’ll be implementing over the foreseeable part of my fiction writing:

  • A daily word quota. If you’re a pantser, this is your strength and you should be practicing it as often as possible. He says that most writers use 1000, which seems fair to me, but I prefer 500 as I lead a bit of a busy life, and I like victory. 500 words for a pantser in a decent mood is half an hour.

  • Reread what you wrote the day before, and add missing scenes and connections. It’s another way to add consistency as you work your way forwards.

  • Once a week, record the plot progress. Via plot grid (times and events). Keeping track of what you’ve written in a condensed format that you can refer to is a very good idea.

  • Index cards. Very much a detailed system on its own, and on the planner side of the line, but I like the different suggestions he has for working with index cards. I’ll also add the insights of a technical talk, for those who are hesitant about going off computer: being able to view many index cards—or pages of printed logs—laid out at a time (difficult on a computer) lets you spot patterns and make connections between otherwise disparate and distant pieces. This is the beginning of the synthesis of theories on the techie side of things, and theme/symbolism/motifs on the fiction writing side.

Bell goes into far more detail for OP writers, with more techniques in detail, because that’s the nature of planning. And he’s also obviously an OP; after all, Plot & Structure is all about beams and supports.

I’ll probably revisit this chapter later, but for now I’m just reveling in the insights of going NOP in a reliable (or at least, theoretically reliable) manner.