Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flannery O'Connor's advice on plotting novels

This snippet from one of Flannery O'Connor's letters to a fellow writer struck a chord with me:

"You would probably do just as well to get that plot business out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive," she wrote to Hester. "Wouldn't it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write rather than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you."

I am not a plotter. I dream up a hero and heroine, then write a bunch of disjointed scenes in which they get to know each other and I get to know them and their goals and problems. After a while, something will click and the plot will slowly begin to materialize. I have always seen this as a singularly inefficient way to write, but it's the only way I can write. I'm not creative enough to plot a story for characters who haven't grabbed my heart.

Would anyone care to share their thoughts on this subject?

(Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.)


Katie Alender said...

I'm not sure... I think I have to work harder for the situation than the characters before I start writing. I don't typically have any trouble with characters, so what I have to really watch out for is weak story. Because of this I spend a lot of time lost in daydreams -- but it's funny that being daydreamy has such a romantic reputation -- I'm looking for my next bestseller, LOL. (Okay, well, I don't have any bestsellers yet, so they're all "next".)

Roxie said...

For me,I think this is the same dynamic where my wildly adorable and fascinating stories about my wonderful children are only interesting to the people who already know and love them--like me and their grandmother. I am the same way about my characters. The story doesn't even interest me until I am crazy about the characters. (I'm glad I stumbled onto your blog! I'm learning a lot!)

Brenda Coulter said...

Thank you, Roxie. I'm glad you're here.

Katie, I'm a daydreamer, too. I have finally reached the place where I don't apologize for it.

Tricia Ares said...


Thanks so much for passing on O'Connor's advice. I'm working on my first novel and I tend to write in scenes as I push myself to meet daily writing goals.

Just yesterday I explained the method to a fellow writer, "It's like quilting. Right now I'm working on the squares and when I have enough material, I'll start sewing it all together.

It's encouraging to know other authors also work this way.

Brenda Coulter said...

It is indeed a lot like putting together a quilt. Wishing you all the best with that novel, Tricia.