Clickety-clacking rings across the house as guest-dog, Monte, prances on the hardwood floor. It’s been silent and I welcome the sound of canine life. His humans have left for an extended weekend out of state, and we get to enjoy the company of this nine-year-old Dautchund. He curls up on the couch next to the Hub, who rubs his head and calls him, “Big dog.” It’s hard to adjust to not having the big dogs around.
We also have a visiting tabby cat — a prowler caught on NOAA’s satellite. From 23,000 miles up in space, the weather image captured fuzzy plumes of lake-effect snow across Lake Superior, and it looks like a hunkered tabby cat. If you check out the NPR story here, scroll down to see the plumes in action. That tabby has been a frequent visitor, only it looks more like fluffy white kittens from our perspective.
Domestic animals aside, I’ve also conquered a wild beast. Last Sunday, I turned in the first draft of a plot outline to my proposed novel thesis. Last term, I completed a plot following Snyder’s Beat Sheet. In case you are wondering, a plot and a plot outline are not the same. One is telling the story of the plot, and the other maps what happens when. Turns out, I have seven plots and subplots — who knew? Well, that’s the problem. You don’t know until you are forced through the sieve of mapping a plot.
My W-storyboard is getting a workout. Just because I have a plot outline does not mean it is the novel’s final structure. Index cards and sticky notes rearranged on the board will provide the blueprint as I write. My inciting incident is due in another week. Having an outline forced me to contain my ideas, which is similar to what happens when I write a story in 99 words. It’s made me rethink my beginning.
I’m not even going to say how many times I’ve written the beginning to Miracle of Ducks. If my outline holds, this novel will be nothing like the first draft I wrote. However, my original opening was closer to a proper inciting incident than any subsequent one I wrote. What is proper? Something that gets the reader reading — a character who compels, action that excites, a mystery that begs resolution.
My professor made an astute observation. He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens. It’s daunting to think about in those terms. That’s a lot of pressure to place on an inciting incident.
Another consideration is that I’ve mapped my inciting incident deeper into my book. It does not occur on page one. I’ve designed a trap for my protagonist called “Danni in a box with a knot.” The box includes four different plotlines that emerge to squeeze down on her. The knot is the fragility of her need to belong. She thinks life is good and she has what she has longed. Except, it comes with a cost, and she’s about to get delivered the bill.
What excited me in mapping out the plot outline is that I realized the inciting incident. The box traps Danni, but it is one particular incident that moves the story toward its trajectory of growth, specifically, Danni’s growth. If I hadn’t (been forced) to complete a plot outline, I would have missed this incident. While painful for a pantser to knuckle under and learn, I feel more confident as a writer. Instead of committing to XX number of words a day, I’m now setting specific goals for what to write.
We can debate when, how much, and why we should plot. The most important point to keep in mind is that each one of us must find the process that works. I signed up for two-year writing boot camp, so I have to execute processes that are not my first (or fiftieth) choice. I’m finding out that the pain is worth the gain. At some point, a pantser has to plot, and a plotter has to write into the draft. If you think you can get away with not plotting, you’ll learn differently by the time you get to writing a synopsis.
You’ll be faced with defining your structure at the beginning, middle, or end.
On Twitter, Sherri Matthews posted an interesting article, When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting. The author quotes Stephen King in regards to being a situation writer, coming up with a situation that is the story. The advice is to keep the momentum going by writing, what next? And then, what next? He also says that writers can be hybrids. I think what we call a hybrid is a plantser!
With snowcats and situations in mind, I thought it would be a fun and informative exercise to write 99-word stories based on a situation. You’ll start with the situation and add what next, what next, what next until you arrive at “until finally.” In 99 words, of course.
February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Rainbow Makes Her Move by Charli Mills
Rainbow faked a yawn, stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction, and calculated the distance to the door. She had made several tests runs the day before and knew how long the door opened before shutting. Preening her calico fur, Rainbow waited to blow this boring book joint. When a group of homeschoolers entered the library, she made her move on the open door. Swerving in and out of gangly legs like a feline slalom racer, she won the race and made it outside. Shivering beneath plumes of lake-effect snow, Rainbow calculated her reentry.