Quantum and Plotting #amwriting

Say what?

You’ve heard of alternate realities. Tell me you’ve heard of alternate realities. Parallel universes? Quantum probabilities? Schroedinger’s Cat?

ANYWHO, I’m talking about the concept that there are multiple possibilities in any situation — in the case I’m making, in a writing project.

I don’t know about you, but it’s really, really hard for me to write. A blank screen or a blank piece of paper is hard to attack. Because why? Because every decision you make as a writer collapses all the possibilities of the situation into the one you choose.

Henry Hero is tall. That means he isn’t any other height. It means he isn’t named Josephus Filliatreaux or Sabra K’tenik. He’s in love with Darla Sweetwater. That means he isn’t gay. Or maybe he is, but he’s still in love with a woman. That opens a world of possibilities. BUT YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE.

This is why I plot/outline, even though my natural inclination is to write by the seat of my pants. Because all the shiny possibilities dazzle me and distract me and keep me from taking the story arc anywhere. So many interesting byways and tangents…. So many minor characters who seem so interesting to me….

Outlining forces me to PICK SOMETHING and FOLLOW IT THROUGH.

There’s a term in acting that’s been adopted by writers, a term I like very much: the throughline. Even in short stories, which I usually don’t outline, I need to come up with a throughline. In short stories, they’re often like the episode abstracts TV Guide used to have, back when there were only three stations: “Kirk and Spock must find the traitor aboard the space station before the adorable Tribbles eat all the quadrotriticale.” (Waving at Pete.)

Meanwhile, all the other possible throughlines and their concomitant characters and subplots collapse into nonexistence. And I weep.

Or, you know, don’t.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What is the throughline of the last book or story you read?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

You may also like...

One thought on “Quantum and Plotting #amwriting

  1. Dan Antion

    January 23, 2017 at 8:38am

    First, yes, I’ve heard of alternate realities. I think I visit them from time to time. I like the idea of outlining and sticking to a plan. I try to establish a goal for my blog posts, and I work to make things contribute to that goal. It may surprise you to know that I delete a lot of words before publishing (I know, maybe not enough)but I find them y asking “does this help me reach that goal?”

    Bonus points for using an example from Star Trek.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 23, 2017 at 11:28am

      I GOT BONUS POINTS!!!! Yay for me!!! I love bonus points. It’s like money for jam! 😀

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    January 23, 2017 at 3:51pm

    Great post. Interestingly enough, my plotting software (Dramatica) uses the term ‘throughlines’ for the way the organizing is done.

    That’s why I consider myself an extreme plotter: an enormous number of decisions are made self-consistently before I venture out to attempt to tell my story. I test them against that throughline you mention BEFORE most of the writing happens.

    It basically means, though, that when faced with the height of a character, I consider the possible extensions of that through the whole plot right up front – so it doesn’t come back to haunt me later. Then I finalize the decision of Henry’s height.

    Mostly, if I have reason to regret that decision while writing about Henry, I am very careful to realize it is all interlocked – which tells me how much work I’m in for if I decide he’s better off short. And I usually leave him tall.

    But once many of these decisions are made, the very nature of having asked the question Is Henry short or tall? has limited the heights of other characters in a pleasing array or into a squadron where the officers are assigned because they are tall (as my dad’s was in WWII) because someone decided it makes for tidier parades.

    And it makes me find another way to solve whatever problem it was that led to questioning Henry’s 6’4″ size.

    I find, when you have a whole lot of decisions to make, it pays to lock as many of them down before you get started as you can: there will be plenty to pants about in each scene anyway.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 24, 2017 at 8:10am

      “there will be plenty to pants about in each scene anyway.” LOL! There must be. Your work is so meticulously dovetailed, it’s obvious you put a lot of planning into it, but it always seems fresh and organic, as if it’s unfolding spontaneously.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        January 24, 2017 at 10:59am

        Thanks, Marian. I have a large number of implausible points to make – without work, you’d find yourself saying, ‘that could never happen!’ and not reading.

        It’s my job to make them possible, and this is the only way I know.

        I think of all the stuff that goes into the structure as the physical limits, as a dancer might think of the size of the stage and the music that is necessary for her to perform. And she must be very very polished – but make it seem light and spontaneous.

        And I love ‘meticulously dovetailed’ – you have a way with words.

        Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  3. A.C.Flory

    January 23, 2017 at 5:16pm

    Hmm…as a pantster, I adore those infinite possibilities, even though they do mean going back and changing things quite a lot. In fact, the reason it took me almost 5 years to publish Innerscape was because I /knew/ I’d be making changes, so I had to keep the earlier episodes flexible. I came up with a small detail in episode 4 – the scent of lemon – and I just knew I had to make it a tiny theme. And, of course, that meant going back and dropping lemon-scented breadcrumbs along the path. Luckily my writing software makes changing my mind doable.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  4. Joey

    January 23, 2017 at 6:13pm

    I agree. I hate that choosing eliminates choices. I hate it overall, not just in writing. I have outlines, but it’s the layers and layers of sub-plot and twists I can’t seem to overcome. One day. I tell ya, one day.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 24, 2017 at 8:14am

      You should see me trying to order at a restaurant. That’s one reason I like to lunch with girlfriends: It’s all, “Could I try a bite of that?” and “Here, you gotta try this,” with us.

      Joey, you gotta get some index cards and start jotting on ’em!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
      • Joey

        January 24, 2017 at 8:34am

        I know exactly what you mean about dining — why can’t more restaurants go the way of dim sum? I want to taste all the fings!

        Permalink  ⋅ Reply

Leave a Reply, If You Ple-az

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.