Let’s take a break from all of this healthy lifestyle chit chat to talk about something else I’m doing. Plotting! No, I’m not plotting evil deeds. I’m currently mapping out the plot of my current work in progress. I’ve been working on this novel for almost three years now, which sounds like a really long time, right? But a) I’m on my third draft and b) I work full-time, and finally c) if you are a writer/know writers/have read anything about writers, this shit takes time. Especially when it’s your first shit. So why am I working on my plot when I’m on my third draft? Because it does not make sense. Because I want the reader to be turning pages to find out what happens next. Because I want something cohesive. Because I’m not half-assing this thing. And mostly, because I love my characters, but my goodness they’re kind of wandering around in the dark right now and I’d really like to give them some more direction. After months of sitting on the damn book (another reason it takes so long to write) I’m finally revisiting it, and have started to shed some light on the gross yucky generic blob that was my plot. Now that I’ve got you all curious, sorry! I’m not sharing the details here. But I do have some advice if you find your characters wandering the desert with a dead flashlight, no water, and a limp camel. They can make it through, I swear.
1. Don’t be afraid to delete things and try something new
Yep. Sounds pretty simple, right? But I know when I was reworking my plot, I was REALLY set on this ONE scene. It’s an awesome scene! But you know what? It was doing NOTHING for my plot. Or my characters. Or the reader. Now, I never really delete anything. That’s what separate Word documents, or Scrivener snapshots, or however you work, are for. Take things out, but save them later. You never know. That scene where your werewolves are drinking hot chocolate and making s’mores over a campfire might come in hand later. The main thing here is, be flexible. Try a different approach. Nothing is set in stone! If it doesn’t work, take it out, but maybe something will work. It’s worth the effort.
2. Ask yourself, “would my character really do this thing?” and if they wouldn’t, don’t have them do it!
Ok, this one was advice that someone gave me, so I can’t claim it as my own. But really. You want your characters and their motivation to feel genuine, right? Don’t force them into a plot line for the sake of the plot. If anything, let them show you where to go. At some point your characters are going to spread their wings and fly away into the mind of readers (scary right), and your readers will second guess them if they do disingenuous things. Prepare them for leaving the nest, because you don’t own them.
3. Share your work, talk to friends
I was in a real funk with my book until I finally showed it to a friend and asked for advice. I have a real problem asking for help, and despite my editorial background, the idea of collaborating with someone else on my own work scares me. Then it’s their idea, not mine, I think. But that’s not true. It’s my book, and I needed a push. My friend was there to point things out that I hadn’t thought of. Together we talked through the plot and she really helped me work things out. And it’s still my book! If you’re not ready to share your work, write out some ideas. Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Get it out of your head. Ideas get jumbled in your head. Even typing can be distracting for me. Write it down. Old fashioned style.
This one also really helped me. Are you not sure if the werewolves would really be eating s’mores? Well how about a trip to the library! They have tons of research on werewolves, and while you’re looking up s’mores you might come across something else that could really move your plot along. Like, holy crap! They’re allergic to jelly beans?! That could be an entire new chapter right there. Ok maybe not, but really, go to the library, google, whatever, just start thinking about what you want to write–not just plotwise, but historically, psychologically, location, etc. Pick some aspect of your story–it’s set in Spain? Go read about Spain! It might get your mind moving.
5. Index cards, spreadsheets, outlines
I asked my writing group what they do when they’re stuck on plot, and a lot of them are fans of the index card approach. Get different colored index cards. Color code them by character, or by plot line, write out each scene on them, spread them out, shuffle them around, maybe you’ll realize that the werewolves are eating s’mores in chapter 8 when it makes way more sense to move their campfire to chapter 5. Another writing group member said she likes to make Excel spreadsheets. Her book spans a week, so she made a row for each character, and then across the top she made a column for each day. Then she plugged in who was doing what when. It helped her see where everyone was at any given time, and how to get them across to the end. (There’s a road trip involved, so she even calculated mileage and gas stops! Details! They’re important!)
6. Take a break.
I’m not saying take a 4 month break like I did–although sometimes that is necessary. But as they say, some people get their best ideas while in the shower. Or on a run. Or petting the cat and eating a sandwich. Let your mind wander. Things will come to you. But be prepared to write them down! I’m not sure how you’re going to do that in the shower, maybe with these.
There you have it. Now stop reading this (all two of you!) and go write! DO IT. 500 words. By midnight.
Question of the Day:
What do you do when you’re lost in your plot? Not a writer? What do you do when you’re feeling lost in general?!