Plotting Along

The most difficult aspect for me of writing commercial fiction is coming up with the story itself, more specifically, coming up with the external conflict. I have characters galore in my head, swilling brandy, flirting, waltzing, thundering across the countryside on their noble steeds.

I have settings, Regency, Victorian, and contemporary settings that I can see, hear, taste, touch and smell (in my head). I can come up with relationship troubles by the long ton, but current wisdom (with which I will take umbrage some other day) is that a romance novel must have an external conflict, a force keeping the lovers apart even when—somewhere west of page 350 and a whole lot of hanky panky—they realize they are fated to be together.

So after years of wrestling with this deficiency of mine, I’ve come up with two different forms of plotting yoga. (We used to call it brainstorming, but the term has acquired an odor of corporate-speak frowned upon in creative circles.) The first practice involves donning loose fitting, comfortable clothes, sturdy shoes and thick socks. Prior to the session, it’s advisable to stop by the potty, but I try not to read more than one scene while I’m in there because the general premise is that if I move the body, the mind might flex a few ideas too. More than one scene, and well… maybe that’s for another day too.

I go out of doors, I breathe in the fresh country air and hope none of the dairy farmers upwind have cleaned out a loafing shed recently, and I place all my weight on my right foot. Some adepts prefer to start with the left—it’s a personal decision. When I’m confident my weight is securely balanced, I lift my left foot and place it ahead of my right. Calling upon eons of evolutionary engineering, I shift my weight onto the left foot until I am balanced thereupon. Next—and this is crucial—I lift my right foot, and place it ahead of the left. It can be confusing until you get the pattern: left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, lift, shift, lift shift (say it three times fast).

I continue in one direction for about a mile or until I get an Idea, then I execute one 180 degree turn—this takes practice—and repeat the sequence until I’m back in my own yard. I thought up this very blog in the midst of such a session, proof positive that it works. Or proof of nothing in particular. The second form of plotting yoga, which I truly do enjoy, requires a call to the Beloved Aged P’s on the West Coast to transmit a warning that there will be a Grace Sighting in about four days. I gas up Beloved (paid off) Toyota Tundra, lux some undies, say my grandmother’s prayer for everybody’s safety, and Head West.

I do not listen to the radio, nor to CDs, nor even books on tape (unless they’re by Malcolm Gladwell, of the wise, sexy voice). Long about Oklahoma, I’m fairly confident of having a plot. I once dreamed up a whole trilogy on the road, but this required a sortie through West Texas, about which, the less said the better, except it wasn’t a very good trilogy. To write novels, I need to apply the fundament to the chair for long, long hours, but for my process, for my stories, I also have to find the white spaces in my life that generate new ideas, and if I don’t have white spaces, I have to create those too.

Or I could just go for a walk, or maybe go see the folks.

reposted with the kind permission of What are the dull, boring necessary aspects of your process that constitute your personal “writing yoga?”

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