By Margaret Lucke
"I'm so excited," I say to my Muse as I walk into my office. I'm carrying two mugs of tea, one for me and one for her. "This morning I'm going to start writing a new novel."
She's sitting cross-legged on the desk beside my computer. I hand her a mug. "We," she says. "We are going to start a new book. You can't do it without me."
"That's true. And I'm grateful for your help."
She sips her tea and smacks her lips in satisfaction. "Mmm, that tastes good. Thanks."
"Ah, the old plotter versus pantser debate. What's the best way to get the story to reveal itself?"
"That's exactly what I'm asking." I sit back and wait for her answer.
Instead she says, "You know what would be good with this tea? A chocolate donut."
"Sorry. We don't have anything like this in the house. So which method should I try this time, plotting or pantsing?"
"It really doesn't make a difference. Are you sure there are no donuts? My brain works best when it's fueled with sugar."
"What do you mean, it doesn't make a difference?"
She takes a long drink of tea. I tap my fingers impatiently.
Finally she says, "When you outline in advance, you still need to let the story unfold through the characters' actions. They don't always behave as you expect them to, and if you try to force them to do things your way, the story sounds stilted and forced."
"That would suggest it's better to be a pantser." I frown. "I tried pantsing with my last book. Writing it took forever, and the first draft was a sprawling mess."
"The first draft is supposed to be a mess," she says patiently. "Pantsing is fine, but it works best for someone who understands the basic plot that underlies any story. If the author keeps that in her head, the writing process goes more smoothly and the result is more satisfying."
"The basic plot?"
"Yes. The one basic plot. Almost all stories share it. You've already written it, and you'll write it again. And you've read it many, many times."
"I thought there were seven plots. Or maybe it's twenty. Or thirty-six."
"Those are all just variations on a theme. What matters isn't coming up with an original story but telling it in an original way."
"So what is this amazing plot? Tell me the story." I settle back to listen.
"Okay. You can find various versions of this in one place or another. Here's mine." She clears her throat and begins.
* * *
Once upon a time …
There is a PERSON whose life is unfolding in a particular way.
Then SOMETHING HAPPENS, which changes the situation and creates an opportunity, a challenge, or a problem for the Person.
In response to this new situation, the Person decides to pursue a GOAL--in other words, to take advantage of the opportunity, to meet the challenge, or to solve the problem.
She sets out on a COURSE OF ACTION that she hopes will help her achieve the goal, which is important to her because there is a lot at stake.
But success does not come easily. Along the way, she encounters DIFFICULTIES, OBSTACLES, AND OPPOSING FORCES that put the outcome in greater and greater doubt.
At the DARKEST POINT, when all seems lost, the Person makes an important DECISION based on who she is and what she has learned in the course of her adventure.
As a result of this decision, the Person CONFRONTS the opposing forces and either SUCCEEDS OR DOES NOT SUCCEED in achieving the goal.
CHANGED forever by the experience, the Person moves forward, her life now unfolding in a different way …
… And she lives happily ever after (or not).
* * *
My Muse takes a bow as I applaud.
"There you have it--the outline for your next book. All you have to do is fill in the details." She slides off the desk. "Come on. Now that our work for today is done, let's reward ourselves."
We're done? I've only been at my desk for five minutes. And filling in the details--that's the challenging part. "Reward ourselves how?" I ask.
She gives me an exasperated look. "By going out to get donuts, of course."