July 29, 2011

plot problems

So, you guys remember my post about conquering writing slumps last week? Well, I have another point to add. Sometimes, you’re stuck because something is wrong. Turns out my piddling was the result of my subconscious telling me something I didn’t want to hear.

Brooke, this isn’t working.

Shut up. It is too.

If you say so.

I continue on my way, piddling, evading, and ultimately not writing. So I summon Vincent—my subconscious, Muse, whatever you want to call him—and I ask him, Well if you’re so smart, why isn’t this working?

I tried telling you a few chapters back. You knew this was coming. Your plot is broken.

My plot is fine.

If you say so…

*narrows eyes and scowls*

*grins smugly*

God, you’re right.

Luckily, my plot wasn’t entirely broken. I had reached the point in the novel (coincidentally, three-quarters of the way through) where the story could go in one of two directions: the path I originally plotted back in March, or the path that the story demanded. Everything in the story suggested that the story would go into unplotted territory, and I had to make sure that we had a route through that tangle of barbed plot-vines and poisonous pools of pterodactyl phlegm.

My husband said to just write through it, see where it went. Oh, silly husband. I’m not a pantser anymore. I understand the magic that is plotting. Seriously, all that legwork at the beginning saves months of revision time later. So, I sat down and started plotting again, from the point in the story where I had hit a brick wall to the end of the novel. And would you believe that as soon as I figured out where the story was headed, the brick wall crumbled. I started writing like the fiend that I am, and I’ll keep going until I’m finished.

Vincent was right. I knew several chapters ago that the ending I had originally plotted wasn’t going to work, but I put off trying to fix it because there was the tiniest smidgeon of possibility that it would work. However, the story begged to end differently. I’m glad I listened rather than forcing the novel in a direction it didn’t want to go. I plan for Chroniker City to span three books. With my original plot, I knew what would happen in the first book, and a few scenes for the second book. Third book was anybody’s guess. With the new plot, I have scenes, character arcs, and plot/subplot arcs already spinning in my head for the second book, and a general idea for the third book. So, I’m glad that worked out.

That niggling feeling in the back of my mind turned out to be worth listening to.

So, to elaborate on last Wednesday’s post, sometimes, you have to give your novel a good, hard look and see if the reason you’re having trouble writing is because you aren’t telling the right story. You may have made a left turn back in chapter twelve, when you should have turned right. Maybe you’re standing at a crossroads like I was, and you need to choose the better path—generally the one with more conflict, in case you were wondering.

I can’t tell you how I knew that Path B was the right way to go, only that it felt right. Sometimes, things happen that way. You know something. You don’t know how you know it, but it your gut, it just feels right. That’s how I fell in love (more like dove head first) with my husband. I just knew it in my gut that he was the one for me, and we barely knew each other. Soulmates. Can’t beat that.

It’s the same with storytelling for me. When an idea for a novel hits, I let my gut tell me whether or not it’s a novel I want to write, whether it is the right novel for me to write. I’m getting better at listening. When I was still a wee little amateur writer, I didn’t listen. I wrote whatever came to mind, and those sad, mangled novels squandered in the pit of awfulness. I learned. I began to understand that not anyone could write any novel. Some novels are suited to certain writers, and others aren’t. I like reading Middle Grade novels—fun, whimsy, and downright silly at times—but I can’t write them (not yet anyway). I like reading epic fantasies—complex plots and subplots, a cast of twenty or so characters, and epic, world-saving quests—but I can’t write them (not yet). Maybe I’ll grow as a writer, and someday I’ll be able to write those books. For now, I’m happy writing the stories that I can write.

So, when you’re having trouble, or even when you start a new project, question yourself: Is this a story I want to write, or is this a story that only I can write? It’s a hard question to answer, no doubt about that. The same goes with plot points: Is this what I want to happen, or is this what the story needs to happen?

My first plotted ending was so-so, a bit ho-hum. The story sort of ended. Everything wrapped up nicely in a pretty pink box with a pretty pink ribbon. Blergh. (I think Vincent just vomited). The new ending doesn’t finish off so nicely. It’s rife with conflict, danger, and suspense. It’s a better ending. I can tell you already without having written it yet. Hopefully readers think so too.

As it stands, looks like we’re looking at an October release. There is likely to be a title change between now and release, but Chroniker City will be the title for the overall book series. Now that I’m this close to the end (roughly 12,000 to 18,000 words to go), I’m pumped.

How is your progress with your current project?


  1. That's wonderful, Brooke! And such an entertaining post. So, you have a male muse? Jami Gold does, too. You two break the tradition of the female muses of antiquity! :-)

    So glad you got re-energized!

  2. I thought about giving Jami a shout out. She's not the only one with a male muse! :)

  3. In the same way as "no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy," we can say "no plot survives intact past the fifth chapter."

    Plotting is pantsing, it's just telling your pants which direction to go. It's like when Mrs. Fetched points at something: the actual something she's pointing at can be as much as 45° in either direction. Best thing to do is start moving, then re-calibrate when you can actually see it.

    I've found that plotting is a wonderful device in the early stages — like, before I actually start writing — because it gives me some direction — but once I get rolling, the characters will start telling me what really happens next. I ignore what they're saying at my own risk.

  4. I hear you--sometimes there's a reason writing isn't going well. I'm learning that, rather than force myself through a word count goal, it's sometimes more productive to sit and think about the plot--or take a walk and brainstorm. Once I work out the kink, the story is back to flowing again :) Good luck!!