Monday, November 22, 2010

Lightbulb Moments v Careful Plotting

A lightbulb moment!
I generally start a new manuscript with a 'lightbulb' moment. My subconscious mulls things over without any assistance from me and suddenly I'm presented with these characters I must bring to life. Off I go, fingers racing over the keyboard, maybe I even get as far as three chapters or so, then just as suddenly as the lightbulb switched on, off it goes. My characters have deserted me. Why? Because I haven't given them anywhere to go, enough motivation to get there, or enough conflict to make their journey engrossing.

If I was a racehorse...
Plotting has always been my downfall. I don't know how many 'starts' I've got filed away in my computer or typed onto sheaves of paper before computers came along. And it's not only writing. There are many partially-finished projects around my home. If I compare myself to a race horse I think I'd tear out of the starting gates with tremendous enthusiasm, before the halfway point I'd be looking around for something easier or more interesting to do, and by the end I would've wandered off the field without anyone even noticing. It's not all bad: being a good starter has given me experience in many different fields of work, it sent me bungee jumping and to India on not much more than a whim, it's given me the opportunity to get projects off the ground and see someone else run with them and be successful.

I CAN complete this MS
But I know if I'm ever going to gain accomplishment as a writer, I need to rein in this tendency. With this in mind I trawled the net looking for advice. One of the resources I came across was Holly Lisle's 'Introduction to Plotting' and her Free Plot Outline Mini Course. Referring to the course, I've written my very first chapter-by-chapter plot outline and I'm feeling fairly confident I can complete the manuscript I'm working on because I've given my characters directions and goals that I can write towards. I feel as if I know my characters much better than in previous manuscripts. I've gained a better understanding of the intertwining of plot and character where before I looked at them as separate entities running parallel.

I'd love to know how you handle lightbulb moments v plotting.


  1. Good morning, Leigh. I love your horse reference. Cute.

    I started off a story like you. It's like opening a door on a conversation between two people who are in trouble, but then poof--they close the door. What has worked for me at this point is to sit down and write a synopsis. You have to write it anyway. There is where I really dig deep for the GMC. I might even make a little time table chart. Then I go back and tweak my opening and continue on.

    Sometimes my characters change things a little bit, and in the end I need to tweak my synopsis, but that's okay.

  2. When I get a lightbulb moment, I jot down the idea and let it "marinate" for weeks or even months. Then, when I'm ready to begin work on the idea, I outline big portions of the book out and use it as a road map of sorts. This prevents me from going off the rails during writing. Very very rarely do I ever act on a lightbulb moment when it occurs.

    Oh, on a side note, I just bought Kincaid's Call two days ago. Can't wait to read it :-)

  3. My Muse seems to work in the other direction. For Example: I've had some spot of the plot that is essential but no matter what I write, it just doesn't say what I want to; it sounds contrived. I put it in anyway because it's got to be there, and I'm certain somewhere along the many editings, The Answer will come. And generally, it does, but usually when I'm not working on the piece. I may be watching TV or just taking a coffee break while checking e-mailS but suddenly--The Muse comes through!--and I visualize EXACTLY how to say whatever it is I want to say. Saved again!

    When it happens, it is indeed a Lightbulb Moment!

    Great blog, Leigh!

  4. I don't have or use either. It just comes out of me as I write. Weird huh?
    I would like to learn to plot. So I may give that a shot. Great blog Leigh! Good luck!

  5. Hi Autumn - thanks for stopping by. "Opening a door on two people who are in trouble" is a really visual way to start a story. A time table chart is a great idea!

    Hi Sandra - your working process sounds like something I could learn from. Thanks for buying 'Kincaid's Call' and for saying 'hello' today.

    Hi Toni - Things that sound great in my head rarely sound the same when I write them down - your lightbulb moments are more perfected than mine! Thanks for your lovely comment about my blog.

    Hi Mary - "It just comes out of me as I write." Wow. Thanks for stopping by, Mary and for your nice comment about my blog.

  6. Hi Leigh. I was like you - I must have at least six stories on the go at the moment and all of them ran out of steam. However. My lightbulb moment came when I found Timothy Hallinan and I believe he could be helpful to you too. He teaches a course on how to finish your novel and has the content online for free. Writing ABOUT your book before you start it has been a wonderful revelation for me and I am writing everyday now, building my characters and their worlds so that when I actually start writing the story they are complete creatures. :-)

  7. Hi Norah - thanks so much for your comment. I've had a quick look at Timothy Hallinan's blog and his advice certainly looks useful - I'll pop back on later for a better read. Good luck with finishing your novel!