Monday, March 1, 2010

Let's Have a Plot Party!

Ever since Christine Rimmer guest blogged with us last year about her plotting group,
I’ve been intrigued by the idea. The basics of Christine’s plotting group are this: five writers get together twice a year for a weekend of plotting in Las Vegas. About a week before their scheduled rendezvous, each writer sends to the other members of the group whatever she has on two of her stories. Sometimes it’s pretty bare boned; a conflict, a character or two. Sometimes more details have already been worked out. Plotting sessions usually last between 30 and 90 minutes. They are double-taped so nothing is lost. The owner of the story always leads the discussion, and if it starts going in a direction she doesn’t want it to go, she leads it back. Every writer leaves with 2 stories fully plotted.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to head to Vegas twice a year (I’d be happy with once this decade) and I’m separated from my writing buddies by the vastness of Canadian geography. So we came up with a creative alternative; the instant messaging plotting party.

I started by inviting three writing friends to my party. I would have loved to invite all my writing friends, but unfortunately it likely would have been unmanageable in IM form. As it was, suggestions were thrown at me at such a fast and furious pace that was often difficult to keep up with the three of them. More on that later.

We decided on a date and time when we’d all be available and about a week before the date I sent my plotters what I knew about the story so far. I had a rough outline and I had the hero’s backstory. As well I did some research on the time period and talked a little about that. Unfortunately, I had almost nothing about the heroine.

So the night arrived and I was a little unsure how to start. I began by asking them the questions I had about my story and also asking them what story questions they had. Soon the comments were flying. Ideas for the sticky plot points I couldn’t seem to see my way through were suggested. No idea was rejected out of hand; we discussed the viability of a number of situations. The heroines’s backstory and her possible motivations and conflicts were thrashed out. Possibilties I hadn’t considered emerged. As we threw out ideas we fed off each other’s energy and more ideas were generated.

By the time we finished a couple of hours later (the time just flew!) I had a pretty decent plot worked out. A couple of us saved the chat using that feature in MSN so I could take a look at it later. When BIAW rolled around I was ready to take off.

The best thing was that we’d all had a blast. It was so much fun to get together and throw around ideas. It would have been fabulous to do this in person; members of SRW have plotted stories together and it is great fun. But given our situations, instant messaging was the next best thing. How did people write before computers and the Internet?

The plot party confirmed for me that I had a viable story idea and a good conflict. It was important for me to work out the plot, motivations and conflicts before I started rather than trying to “fix” them later (as I usually do). It’s still my story and I can take it where I want it to go, either using some of the suggestions I’ve been given or striking out in a new direction. But I feel more confident about it now.

My friends have promised to read my work once it’s done and I look forward to their input. We’ve also promised to get together again when someone else needs help plotting her book. I’m hoping we can make this party a regular event!

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?


Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Jana,
Your plotting party sounds like so much fun! At our SRW meeting on Saturday we did a little plotting exercise and it was so interesting. To see the different perspectives and to be able to tap people's experience and knowledge was amazing.

Janet said...

As one of the participants in Jana's Plotting Party, I can say that I had a blast. It was a great way to generate ideas - and bounce around suggestions. Would I do it again? In a heart beat - in fact, there may just be another one in the near future (I have a hiccup I need to get over, girls - watch for an e-mail).

You did a great job summing up our time, Jana. And I think the really important thing is that you were prepared. You sent your story out well ahead of time and had some basic questions ready to go. Hopefully, I'm invited to a few more parties!

Hope the story's coming along well - looking forward to reading it :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
I read the previous minutes of the meeting where this new story was plotted and it really looks like fun. It would be the kind of story I'd love to write!

You get fresh perspectives and new ideas and knowledge by getting some help with plotting. It's still your story, but with expanded imagination power.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I think preparation is very helpful. If I'd spent our two hours on MSN explaining what my story was about we wouldn't have got nearly as much accomplished. By working on the story ahead of time, and at least having some idea where I wanted to go, it helped my plotters to get on the same wavelength and begin thinking about the story and where it could go. It also helped me get organized. Having a specific date when things have to be ready is a great motivator.

One thing I probably should have mentioned in my post is that it really helps if the people you are plotting with write in the same genre and sub-genre. I'm not sure I'd be much help with a fantasy or science fiction plot.

If you need some help I'll be waiting for your email Janet. You might get one from me too. I'm having trouble with this one plot point and it's driving me crazy. But I'm close to The End.


Janet said...

Hey, Jana - whenever you need me, I'm here :)

Hopefully, I'll be ready for a plotting party mid-month. Watch for e-mail ;)

connie said...

Wow! What a great idea! I'd love to try that.
The plotting at the Few meeting was loads of fun and I was so excited, I plotted all the way home to P.A. I hope we continue it - either at the March meeting or by messenger.

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Jana. As one of the other participants I'll vouch for the plot party being a lot of fun and a great experience! I learned a lot, too.

For myself, I definitely saw the usefulness of plotting in a group setting and the value of bouncing ideas off others. You gave us an excellent idea of what you needed and that helped me prepare and brainstorm. As Janet said, I'd do it again in a heartbeat! Bring on the plot parties!

I'm glad to hear you are making your way to The End. I can't wait to read it!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, it's so funny you posted on this because I was telling Anne and Mary about Christine's post on the 2.5 hr drive home from Sat's meeting. Except I made an error and told them only 1 tape was made and given to the 'owner' of the story. It makes sense to double tape, though.

I haven't been in on a plotting group, but my main crit partner and I use the yahoo chat to brainstorm. I guess the main difference is that we brainstorm certain problem parts as opposed to plotting it out.

I've also joined in a couple spur of the moment brainstorming sessions over on The Wild Rose Press chat sessions when someone came forward with a problem. Usually they're looking for a character's name, location or occupation. It's fun throwing ideas off and seeing what others think about them.

Excellent post to start the week, Jana.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,I'm here for you too, buddie. I'll be in touch.

And Karen, thanks for your invaluable help. You even came up with the name for me! As you say, I think it's the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and to take your story in directions you hadn't thought of before that's so valuable in this process. I'm looking forward to doing it again.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
Isn't it fun to bounce ideas off people who share your love of writing and storytelling? It's a really great way to share that passion.

A live plotting session is certainly preferable to one done by instant messanger, but our session worked out pretty okay too. I think preparation is the key. Know what you need to ask, know what your story is missing.

Glad you were able to make it to the meeting. Just drive home carefully while you're plotting!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
That's funny that you were just talking about Christine's post. It certainly struck a chord with me. It sure would have been nice to go to Vegas like Christine did!

You bring up a very good point about brainstorming. If you're not inclined to have a plot party and brainstorm with others on the entire plot, maybe there are some issues or plot points that you can brainstorm with a friend or critique partner about. Sometimes a problem that seems insurmountable just needs to be looked at with a fresh eye.

You can have some great conversations on a 2.5 hour drive, can't you?


Mary Ricksen said...

I have never been to a plotting party, but I have participated in watching a short demonstration, I was lost!

Celia Yeary said...

JANA-the idea is great. At first I thought, No,I wouldn't have time to do that in Vegas. However, with my luck it would be lovely to have something else to do. It sounds like a blast! thanks for the idea--Celia (and good luck with your ms.)

Hazel said...

The only group plotting exercise I have done has been with SRW. Once we started from scratch and developed a complete outline for a story, with a plot, characters, motivations, etc. It was a lot of fun.

We did it again at our last fall retreat, much sketchier this time, and then I had to miss the meeting this past weekend where I understand the group would be working on character development for the same story.

Sometimes, a thorny problem has been presented to the group for some massaging, and it's amazing to see how the dynamics of a group working on a common problem will feed the imagination.

Great idea, Jana (and friends)!

EA said...

I love this idea. See, this is why it's good to network. You learn things you never dreamed of before. I'm so glad you had a great and informative time. :)

Valerie Mann said...

This sounds like a lot of fun, Jana! I would love to get involved in a plotting party. I have regular discussions with an author pal but never on the level you're suggesting. I can imagine the energy and fun you have!

Micole Black said...

This sounds like a wonderful idea. It is something that I have heard about before and am looking forward to using in the near future. Thanks you for sharing your experience with all of us.


Micole Black

Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
I'm sure a plotting group isn't for everyone. Lots of writers would feel that it's a giving up of control. But just like a critique, a writer is free to accept or reject any suggestions.

I have to admit that our IM session got a bit crazy at times with everyone posting at once. Sometimes I had to scroll up and read the comment again. But I really found the experience worthwhile.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Celia,
How I'd love to be able to go to Vegas twice a year with friends to talk about writing and plot. And maybe do a little shopping. Sounds great to me! What else would I want to do in Vegas?

Seriously though, our plotting party using IM worked out pretty well. We'll definitely use it again.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hazel,
If I had my druthers, I would opt to have a live-and-in-person plot party because of this great dynamic you're talking about. There really is a great energy in the room. But we managed to create a lot of energy in our IM session and it was very beneficial for me.

Hope you get a chance to participate in more plotting and character building sessions with SRW. I helped to plot our first group effort story "Cold Feet" and it was loads of fun. We really learned a lot as well.


Jana Richards said...

Hi EA,
Welcome to the Prairies! We're happy to have you here.

I'm glad I could pass around a little information that worked for me. I hope it works for you too.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Valerie,
Glad you could join us! Welcome.

Like critique groups, I think a plot group requires a lot of trust and respect between participants. You would want to work with people who "get" your writing as much as you "get" theirs. It really helps to have that connection.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Micole,
Welcome to the Prairies! I hope you make us a regular stop in your blogosphere.

I'm glad our experience has inspired you to give a plot group a try. If you can do it in person it's great, but if that's not possible, don't let distance hold you back. Instant messaging is a pretty nifty alternative.


Skhye said...

This sounds like a great way to get together with writers and just talk about writing. :) Although, I scare people to death with my quick thinking. Or so I've been told. I wouldn't recommend sending me an invite! LOL

Jana Richards said...

Hello Skhye,
IM can be used for writer friends to keep in touch or as a method of hashing out problems with plotting and characters. It's especially great when you're a long distance away from plotting/critiquing friends like I am.

Skhye, I would not be surprised at all to hear that you are very quick when it comes to coming up with new ideas, plot twists etc. If you were to try a plotting group like this, be sure that your partners can keep up with you. Everyone has to be on the same wavelength for this to work.
All the best,