I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Actually, it’s not a “plan” per se, but I love it when I’ve laid some groundwork and suddenly it comes together–as in suddenly it weaves together with the rest of the story and adds to the plot and the characters. In that moment, it’s like the angels sing and chocolate falls from the sky. The thing is, when it happened to me today, I hadn’t actually planned it. I was letting the story flow and layering some details I knew I’d need. But then all of a sudden, I realized how much it worked to up the suspense, to help the story flow, to open up the characters, and to make a major plot point turn. And I both thought it up and and didn’t. It was totally unconscious.

This brings up the lizard brain–the unconscious, the prehistoric bit of your brain that is intensely creative and smart and is always working for you even when you think it isn’t. It is what Virginia Woolf called the primordial ooze–that fertile clay that we make things out of as writers. Sometimes more oozey than clay, but still it is where many of our ideas come from; where many connections are made.

Thank goodness for plans that come together out of nowhere. It’s very much like Hannibal from The A-Team from whom I stole the line–he never really had a plan. It was always bold seat of the pants action and his mind was always racing to see what he could make from what he had to work with. Same with writers. And you keep working, keep pushing, keep moving and dodging until you’ve got yourself a story. With occasional stoppages of various sorts to allow the lizard brain to get creative.

Or at least that’s the way I do it. Anybody else?

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  1. 1. Andrea K Host

    Mm – I am definitely in your group there. Things go into the beginning of the novel seemingly at random and yet somehow decide to mesh together at the end almost as if there was thought involved!

    And generates some pure authorial joy in the process.

  2. 2. Maria Lima

    Yes.
    That–exactly.

    It’s like no other feeling in the world.

  3. 3. S.C. Butler

    Absolutely the way I do it The hindbrain always knows best. That’s why I am sometimes content to noodle along through the story, because something good almost always grows out of the noodling. Plus it’s always a good thing to live some of the less exciting parts of your characters’ lives – you can always cut it later once the lizard brain kicks in.

  4. 4. Wolf Lahti

    Outlines are for writers who lack faith.

  5. 5. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Andrea–doesn’t it make you want to dance around singing? (hoping nobody is watching of course)

  6. 6. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Maria–sublime.

    Sam–I am getting better and learning to trust the noodling lizard brain, but my stupid consciousness must worry about it and so I’m caught up in this weird zen/panic mode, like a manic-depressive yingyang.

  7. 7. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Wolf–actually, I like outlines. But not for the reason you might think. I like them because when I don’t use them, I clench hard on the ideas I have so I don’t forget them, and it shuts out the lizard brain thinking. When i do an outline, I know that I’ve written my ideas down and so if I need to go back and read them to remember them, then I can. In the meantime, the lizard brain can go to work and often I go way way way off my outline–heck, half the time I don’t look at it. But it’s just knowing that I put my ideas down on paper and can’t forget them that lets the creativity flow.

  8. 8. Kelly McCullough

    Ooh, yes, Diana, your comment #7 nails it. I’m an extensive outliner in great part due to the fact that it leaves my creative brain free to work on all the details and make the plan better instead of forcing it to make the plan work at all.

  9. 9. Kelly McCullough

    Hit post too quickly there. Had intended to add that I do tend to stick quite closely to the outline, but I also build blank space into the outline that allows me to both follow and fill.

  10. 10. Elias J. McClellan

    D!!!! WELCOME BACK, D!! I missed you! Just attended a conference sponsored by my writing group. We had a story structure class with script writer, Tom Vaugh. He mapped 1st act, 2nd act, etc and it occured to me that my writting follows the three-part arc.

    Inspiration strikes, (quite painful for a man of my age) followed by 1st act, intro of characters/concept. Commence noodling, 2nd act, establish motivation/conflict. High point, or 2nd act part-b, crisis; I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO GO or it’s already been done, or book-idea 147 suddenly seems more interesting. Then, 3rd act when all seems lost…. I still want to tell my story. There’s a lot of pecking and revising and it doesn’t seem like anything’s getting done and one day I look up and I have a manuscript or something. I make it sound as if I’ve done it more than twice.

    I’m with you, Mr Butler, and Mr McCullough on the outline. It’s a list of ideas that I don’t want to keep track of and a means of toying them around as I fill in details.

  11. 11. green_knight

    Diana, its interesting to see how you’re using outlines. If I outline, I work on the basis of not knowing characters & setting, which means my outlines are dull and forced and not what a story needs – so I don’t do them.

    Elias, my native structure is a five-act one, and there are other alternatives, so if a story does not seem to fit into the three-act pattern, that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

  12. 12. CC

    I’m sure that you all have more experience than I do, but I’ve found that letting myself spend a few weeks writing ultimately useless stuff that I get the best stuff done. And I’m aware of the conflict there, but for me I just write whatever picture or scene or dialogue comes to mind…at the end, I at least know my characters better.
    As for outlining, those first few weeks of aimless writing tend to give me great characters who take the care of the plot for me. And yes, I love it when THAT happens.

  13. 13. Elias McClellan

    @11 green_knight, thank you for reinforcing that. When I first workshopped my very first novel, I liked to died when the writing coach broke down the 3 act, arc. My stuff doesn’t fit that bill and it still scares the ca-ca out of me.

    Tom Vaugh subscribes to the 4 act, arc that he says Hollywood will not embrace so he terms it act 1, 2, 2b, 3. It’s good to hear that others work in harmony knowing the story doesn’t reconcile to our arcs and patterns. Thanks again.

  14. 14. Tessa

    I think the feeling of something coming together like that is also referred to as kissed by the Muse…

    these days, I just listen to Muse instead. ; P

  15. 15. S0BeUrself

    I like to think of that ooze you speak of as what you get when your creative sponge squeezes out all the great ideas its absorbed from everything you see and experience – minus the minutia.

  16. 16. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    oh, spongey ooze! I like it!

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Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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