JWAM reader request no. 11: More on plotting

Anna says:

I just read your post on Characterization and I noticed you said you “spent a long time learning how to plot, how to write action scenes, transitions, exposition etc. etc.”

My question is: How do you learn that stuff? I’m another writer who finds characterization very easy, but I can’t plot. I’ve tried reading books on it, and none have been helpful so far.

I just realized you’ve already written two entries on plotting, but I guess what I want to know is, Do classes help? Are there books you found useful?

Carrie Ryan says:

I’m wondering about plot. In your post on characterization you mention that you had to learn how to plot. I’m interested in learning this thing called plot. I know what happens when I get stuck in plot, etc., but it’s coming up with the plot, making sure that I actually have a plot that I’m curious about. Thanks!!

At last a short post!

I learned by doing.

There was no one book that taught me how. I’ve never done any writing classes. I learned not just by writing my own books, but by critiquing other people’s. The more novels I wrote and the more novels I critiqued the better I got at plotting. I also started reading in a whole new way. I went through my favourite books and forced myself not to get caught up, but to pick them apart, and figure out how they work.

I’m also convinced that the four years I spent reading incredibly bad science fiction taught me a vast deal about plotting. Of the what not to do variety. It taught me to avoid characters acting completely out of character merely to serve the plot. I learned to foreshadow later events, and to think through the implications of my world building, so that my invented universe is not merely a sound stage for the story to take place, but actively shapes the story.

Reading other people’s work has taught me more than writing my own. If I had just worked on my own stuff and never critiqued anyone else I would not have learned nearly as much. It is much easier to see other people’s missteps and mistakes than it is to see you own. But more and more exposure to other people’s writing especially through the early drafts, slowly opens your eyes to your own faults.

For me learning to critique other people’s writing has been the single most important way I have improved my writing.

Once again, there are many writers for whom this is not true.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

One comment

  1. writergirl on #

    Thanks for this one. But i’m not good at seeing what’s wrong with other people’s writings. how do you learn to fix that?

Comments are closed.