I recently saw someone compare plotting to cooking. They described it as knowing what you wanted to make and throwing all the ingredients together. This is a bit of a foreign concept to me. Unless I’ve made something a dozen times, I follow a recipe. Sometimes, even when I’ve made something more than that dozen times, I still need the recipe. I plot much the same way. I have my methods of brainstorming, and figuring out characters’ back stories as well as the actual plot. And I tend to follow the same “recipe” to work these things out.
Now, following a recipe doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it. I’ve done this more than once. I found one recipe in a cook book I got for my wedding. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe exactly. It didn’t turn out right. The sliced potatoes on the bottom of the casserole didn’t cook. It didn’t say to cook the hamburger first, so I just dumped a pound of ground beef in(and yes, it turned out quite greasy). So, I tried boiling the potatoes first. I’ve also made it with mashed potatoes(which almost makes it a reverse shepherd’s pie). And I always cook the beef first now.
I’ve done this with my plotting as well. When I started using the snowflake method, I found some of the steps didn’t work well for me. So, I cut them out(something else I do in recipes if we don’t like one of the ingredients). I’ve added other steps along the way, like how I do my mind maps and using James Scott Bell’s “Signpost Scenes” as well as a beat sheet.
My mom used to make a meal she called(or maybe it was my stepdad who coined the term) “slop”. There’s a reason we called it that. She’d take whatever we had on hand, and throw it in together. It usually consisted of at least hamburger and corn, among several other ingredients. It sounds disgusting, and usually didn’t look much better. But, our family always liked it.
I don’t do this very often with my plotting. But, there are some that call for less plotting. And even when I do plot, I end up throwing stuff in I hadn’t planned. Sometimes, this works out so much better than what I had planned in the first place.
Sometimes plotting can take a combination of these two approaches. Like I said above, sometimes I start out with a nice outline, or recipe. And as I write, things start happening. I take items I have, or that maybe I didn’t realize I had sitting around, and throw them in. Granted, sometimes this can make a meal(or story) fail. Just ask my kids. They’ve turned away more than one meal that wasn’t up to their standards. But, you may also find a meal that becomes your new favorite.
For me, whether I follow the recipe or not, plotting is a lot like my need to plan out the week’s menu. If I don’t, it gets to be half an hour before dinner, and I have no idea what to make. If I don’t plot, even just the basics, I’m usually not sure of what to write.
So, whether you follow the recipe, or just throw ingredients together, get out there and cook up your story. Either way, in the end, I’m sure you’ll still end up with a story you’ll be proud of.