I suppose it's possible that some writers love plotting, but I'm not one of them, or not yet. Indeed, three years ago, I swore I couldn't plot for toffee (not that anyone was offering me any toffee at the time). It's one of the reasons I believed I'd have a hard time trying to hack it as a crime writer. Then I wrote (in fact, co-wrote) an opus that exceeded a quarter of a million words, and surprised myself by managing to conjure the illusion of progression and, moreover, by bringing the story to a definite conclusion. My co-writer, a wise and wonderful woman, told me not to get hung up on the notion of plotting - 'What is plot, anyway? Just a series of coat-hangers, one leading to the next.' She was right, too. There's an art to arranging those hangers, though, and it helps to have most of them in place before you get too deep into the process of writing. That, at least, has been my experience. What do other writers find? Care to share a few tips? I'll go first.
Writing Tip#1 - The Synopsis Shortcut
Of course, there's no such thing as a shortcut in writing. No matter how many books you read about your craft, or forums you join, or courses you attend, at the end of the day you have to sit down and write 80,000 words or more, or less. But when it comes to plotting, when you're sitting with that blank sheet of paper, wondering how on earth to make the idea in your head take coherent form over those 80,000 words, try this. Make yourself write a synopsis that fits on a single side of A4 (around 800 words). Make it have a beginning, a middle and an end. If, like most writers, you have preconceived ideas of 'your limits' (those little voices in your head that tell you that you can't write conflict or action or pathos) - ignore them. This is the key. Shuck off all your expectations, free yourself from worrying about how on earth you're going to write this story. Tell yourself the synopsis is not for a book you are required to write. Rather it's a book you'd like to read. Nothing is impossible, no parameters, no comfort zone, no limits. Just the need to tell a story that will grab the reader and carry him/her through to the very end. That means intrigue, excitement, menace, tension, action - the whole works. Cheat if you like, give the synopsis a blazing ending that subverts the assumptions you started out with. You can go back and fix the inconsistencies later. Think in three acts, each with a climax. This will force you to concentrate on the necessary momentum and narrative progression. When you have a synopsis that makes you sit up straight, THEN you can start expanding it into a chapter-by-chapter plot.
I know that many writers find it harder to tackle a synopsis than just about anything else. I used to be one of them. But, trust me, this will work if you give it a chance. Because you're not writing a synopsis to submit to an agent or publisher; you're writing it as a brain-storming exercise to get a first draft of your plot in place. There's no pressure to produce a synopsis which is fit to be seen by anyone else. This is for your eyes only.
I wrote the one-page synopsis for my new novel sitting in a noisy playground surrounded by screaming children. I refined it at my leisure, in a quieter setting, amazed by the new-found confidence I have in my ability to plot. That single side of A4 is my talisman - tangible proof that I have a story worth telling. Of course I still worry whether I CAN write it; those little voices are persistent. But when they get the better of me, I reach for the synopsis and remind myself why I'm so excited about this writing lark.