Thursday, April 14, 2011

Plotting With Friends

This past Sunday I got together with friends on MSN for a live plotting party. Despite a myriad of problems with MSN and Internet connections, we managed to hash out some issues with a new story I’m putting together. I find it very helpful to have input from trusted writing friends when putting together a plot. They can pick out any glaring plot holes, point out questions of character motivation that I haven’t addressed (or even thought of), or shine a light on any weaknesses they see in the conflict. I find that having others look at the plotting at this stage, before I actually start the writing, saves a ton of time later in revisions.
This is the second time I’ve used this method. Back in January of 2010 I assembled the same group for an instant messaging session to discuss my then work-in-progress “Flawless”. Of course at that point, the story didn’t have a name. Actually it didn’t have much of a plot yet either. But with the enthusiastic help of my friends I was able to put together a plot, and eventually the story that became my World War Two romantic suspense set in occupied France came to life.
I highly recommend the plotting party. Not only do I find it extremely useful, it’s a lot of fun. There’s nothing I like more than brainstorming with other creative people.
But some rules need to be observed. Here’s my thoughts on what makes a plot party, or any plotting group work:
1.       Choose your group wisely. Use trusted writing friends you feel in sync with and whose work you admire. You want different points of view but if the ideas and opinions are counter to what you want to write, your plotting session will end in frustration.

2.     2.   Do some legwork ahead of time. Sketch out a rough synopsis, lay down the most important elements of the plot, do some preliminary research, if necessary. For instance in “Flawless”, because I was writing with the goal of being added to The Wild Rose Press’s Jewels of the Night series, the most important elements were that the story be a romantic suspense that somehow revolves around a blue diamond. I envisioned a story set in World War Two in which a reformed jewel thief is recruited to help the French Resistance steal back a blue diamond from the Nazis. I came up with a very rough plot and a “curse” that was attached to the diamond. Since we were meeting online, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time typing out all this information on the day of the party, I emailed whatever information I had ahead of time. Your friends are there to help you smooth out the edges of your plot and add depth. It’s not fair to ask them to write the whole thing for you.

3.       The person whose story is being discussed should lead the discussion. Christine Rimmer, whose blog post about her plotting group inspired me to form one of my own, says if the discussion goes in a direction you’re not comfortable with, speak up and lead it back to where you want to go. For instance if one member of the group argues for your story to take on a paranormal bent with vampires and slayers and you’re really not into that, speak up. It’s your story. You must take the lead and the rest of the group must respect that.

4.       Save the session! I always save a copy of our instant messaging session to my hard drive so I can refer to it later. There are so many ideas flying back and forth that it’s impossible to write everything down. And I can’t trust my brain to remember everything (or anything, for that matter). Christine Rimmer says that in her plot group, which gets together twice a year in Vegas, they use two tape recorders to record each plotting session, just in case there’s a technical failure.  The writer then gets to take her taped sessions home with her at the end of the weekend.  

I will definitely do this again. We talked on Sunday about how great it would be to be able to get together in person like Christine Rimmer’s group does. I really hope we manage it, but with the four of us living in three different time zones it’s going to be difficult. In the meantime, instant messaging remains an inexpensive if sometimes frustrating alternative.
Have you ever participated in a plotting group, either live-and-in-person or through your computer?  Would you participate if you had the chance or do you prefer to go it alone? 
Next week I’ll be out of town on a bit of a retreat, working on the new story I’ve just plotted out. So I’m taking a break from the blog. I’ll see you at the end of the month!


  1. I'm definitely not ready to go it alone. I love the plotting sessions. They're so much fun. You list a lot of good points. I like that you send out your outline in advance. That way I can read it and let it stew around in my brain for a couple of days.

    I love to take part in a whole weekend of plotting. Sounds like so much fun!

    Good luck on your writing retreat.

  2. Sounds like it could be a ton of fun. I've only been part of one live plotting session, and I found it really interesting. However, that being said, personalities are extremely important. If they clash, you've got a problem.

  3. Hi Karyn,
    Yes, when we're rich and famous, a weekend of plotting twice a year would definitely be on the agenda. I hear Hawaii is very nice in January!

    Or maybe we can work out something a little closer to home and lot less expensive.

    Keep dreaming,

  4. Hi Joanne,
    It is so important to pick both critique partners and plotting partners that you trust. If you have differing opinions about how things should go, the whole thing could be an exercise in frustration.