Saturday, December 4, 2010

Plot = Panic

Oh, plot. How you make me want to beat my head against the carpet, sprint an hour, buy a mile of butcher paper and flow chart the heck out of it. It is because of you, plot, that my laundry gets done, my kitchen floor scrubbed.

Right now, I am the victim of my own impatience. I wrote my WIP on the fly, with an ending for one character in mind, but no clear path to get there. When I'd finished, I polished the writing and made a lot of little tweaks, but it wasn't until a conversation with my husband that I realized my plot was like a splayed hand, with lots of storylines tapering out to their own resolutions, but without the nice tight wrap-up that makes a good story so satisfying. Gah.

You know when I should have realized this? When I was trying to write a practice query, even just a logline, and could not for the life of me boil this book down to one strong sentence. Also when I was thinking about the sequels I would like to write, and came up with: the characters will be evolving like this! The backstory will come out like this! And the plot will be...stuff!

Trying to find/create the cohesive theme after the fact has been my monster challenge of late. Here are some of tools and methods I've been using to try to sort out my tangled strings:
  • Writing out the character arc for each major player in the book
  • Writing essays in the first person from the POV of select characters
  • Making graphs
  • Studying history
  • Writing pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness notes
  • More graphs
  • Opening spreadsheets and making notes in different cells, then color coding the cells
  • Writing a huge timeline
  • Treadmill
I'm sure it sounds like an obsessive mess, but that's what helps me sort my thoughts, and when I figure out something that works, it feels like I've won the lottery. What tricks do you use when making plot revisions?


  1. I've had a hard time with this in my own WIP. I've read a lot of blog posts and articles about how the beginning and end of a book usually come the easiest for writers, but the middle is the hardest part. I remember one author said something like "I wish I could just write a strong beginning and a strong end and then just write 'Stuff happens here' for the middle."

    I've gotten through it by trying to be really organized, like you. Otherwise, my brain would be a jumbled mess. I've also found this post by Scott Westerfeld really helpful:

    He breaks his books into Action, Tension, and Nothing (the nothing chapters aren't really nothing, they're just not super eventful). If he sees there's a couple Nothing chapters in a row, he knows he needs to throw in some Action. It's like a roadmap for him. This has helped me many times to figure out what needs to happen in my own book (my book would probably have been 95% Nothing had I not read this).

  2. Thanks for the link! I've done a spreadsheet just to compare word count in all my chapters, but adding notes on whether there is action, tension etc is a good idea. I also like the idea of adding what day it is as right now I'm not sure about how many days my book takes place in.

  3. When I redid my office earlier this year, I put dry-erase board on 3 of the walls so I could plot there. And I'm still running out. I've tried to use computer software to make flow charts, but that doesn't work because I have to touch it for it to make sense.

  4. That sounds like a great office :) Our office is also the guest room so I don't think I could do that. I do get a little confused sometimes when I've got my notes in thousand different documents, so sometimes I print them out and scribble/highlight on them.