Formulating a Plot

If you happen to follow the “Current Work In Progress” meter to the right, you might notice a drastic change.  It’s not an illusion or a joke, my work in progress has fallen from 25% done at 15,000+ words to just above 10,000 words.  Maybe you’re scratching your head wondering, why?  Today I chronicle the tough decision I felt forced to make, and what I have been spending the last few days doing about it.

First off, why chop a third of my work in progress?  The simple answer is, I had painted myself into a corner.  I hated it.  When I first started The Veil, I had a vision of it focusing very closely on the main character.  The cast would only expand  if the story became a series.  I already had characters in mind and how they fit into what would become a team setting.  The first book, however, was about finding yourself.  Where I had taken the story, characters appeared far quicker than I had anticipated.  My story about a young man finding himself turned into more of a super-team book.  Not what I wanted.  So I retraced my steps and asked where I went wrong.  The point I decided on meant a third of the work got intimate with the delete button.

So where do I go now?

As discussed in previous posts, writing wildly ahead without a plan or direction is the wrong approach for me.  Like a stubborn fool, I continued to do just that and got myself into trouble.  So I decided to make a plan.

I asked the Twitter gods if there was some sort of form for a plot outline.  I enjoy filling in forms.  Having some structure gives me security.  Unfortunately, the Twitter gods decided to ignore me that day.  Or perhaps were too busy preparing for the Lost finale.  Regardless, I was on my own.

First thing I did was look at Martina Boone’s Plotting Made Easy – The Complications Worksheet.  This gave me some idea of what I should accomplish in each section of the story.

Secondly, I thought long and hard about the Hero’s Journey.  My character’s arc fit the hero journey, so I gave close consideration to the various components.

Third, I allowed my idea to run free.  I said, “If this is the world I’ve created, what’s possible?”  The more I asked what could happen, the more did happen.  I started having some pretty wild ideas.  They worked.  They fit together.  My story excited me again.

With these new ideas, I wrote a synopsis of the story.  It was dirty.  It had holes in it.  I would never give it to anyone if I wanted them to read my book.  But it gave me a framework to pin things on.

Then, I created a space that I called Themes & Ideas.  I used this space just to write words and random sentences.  Some were about mood, others about deeper themes and meanings.  I used it as a space to brainstorm with no restrictions.

Out of those random thoughts, I was able to return to my synopsis and start plugging holes and touching up the paint.

Last night, I started putting together scenes.  For each scene I asked;

  • Scene – [Title]
  • What’s the Purpose of the Scene:
  • What Action Happens:
  • What Do We Learn That’s New:

Making sure that every scene answered these points fleshed out the story.  It was more cohesive.  No scene could be a throw-away, I forced myself to justify their existence.  I didn’t worry about order, I just wrote scenes. As their number expanded, I saw where they fit together.  When I have more, I will create a new file and copy the scenes in their proper order.  When that’s complete, I’ll have my plot map.  Then the fun starts!

While it was hard to kill a lot of work, this new direction is far more exciting and satisfying.  It stays truer to the original vision I had while still managing to provide surprises.

This process is frustrating to a “I want it done now” kind of person.  Which I confess, I am.  Truth, though, cannot be denied.  This is the only way this book is getting written.

Posted in Plot, Work In Progress and tagged , , , , , .

7 Comments

  1. You might want to try an ebook called Demystifying Story Structure by Larry Brooks at http://www.storyfix.com. Hands down–the greatest little gem about the problem of plot structure I’ve ever read. And I’ve read TONS of writing books. Good luck!

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  3. Hi Justus,

    I’ve been out of commission all day, but someone just emailed me the link to this, so I wanted to come by and wish you luck. It takes a lot of courage to chuck a lot of work, but it sounds like your story will be much stronger for it. I look forward to reading more about your hero’s journey!

    Best wishes,

    Martina

  4. Hi, Justus –

    I feel your “wanting it done now” pain. For the bulk of my ages in wanting to write, I’ve had the (good) problem of having too many ideas. Charaters, settings, plots and scenes, for everything from short stories (written a decent number) to screenplays (written a handful) to comics (attempted a few starts) to novels (started two, currently knee-deep into one) are constantly popping into my head. I write them down for fear of losing them, as I have before, but truth be told, if I had all day, every day to write, I’d still never get through them.

    And the real problem is that I’m very crow-like with these new ideas: the sparkle of them catches my eye, and they become very attractive. Which makes whatever I’m working on at the moment seem, by default, less appealing. But if I keep ditching one project for a shiny new one, I’ll never get much of anything done. Hence my own wanting to get things done: I think a lot of my ideas have merit worthy of exploring, so need to get through any current one to get onto the next.

    It sounds like your decision to cut and start again is a painful but necessary one. And again, I can commiserate: I tried four takes at the first 40 pages of a kids’ novel before finally getting a good idea of where it was going and realized I needed to cut one of the characters who was causing issues and wasn’t needed anyway. Take Number Five seems to be going more smoothly, and hopefully I’ll be able to push past those first 40 pages and see it through.

    Best of luck with the new approach!

    • Reay, I know exactly what you mean about multiple ideas and being in love with the shiny! I have at least 4 novel starts and several other ideas tucked in a folder. My problem was the stories just never said the things I wanted them to, so I gave up. So far, this current idea is taking the heat, so I think I finally have a winner. I just need to do what Neil Gaiman suggests and FINiSH SOMETHING! I think a lot of doors will open to me once I’ve actually typed the words THE END on a story. Maybe then I’ll be able to polish off the old gems and make them glow the way I want. Good luck on your journey, I’m glad to hear your new start is working.

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