Writing Tip – Sticking to Your Plot (Or not)!

Neridah had another writing question for me this week.

Sometimes when I have written a structured Plot Diagram and Chapter Outline for longer books, when I sit down to actually write it, some of my characters start to do things outside of these carefully made plans. This sounds crazy and I spend a fair bit of time trying to reign them back in or I go back to the Chapter Outline and modify it. In your opinion is this normal for writers?

Taupo BayNeridah, I have to assure you that you are not crazy and you are definitely not alone. Characters often start to develop a mind of their own and create dilemmas for us.

I find that when characters take me in a completely new direction it’s usually because I’ve got to know them better and they are telling me, “This is what I would really do if I were a real person. This is how I would really act.”

So in my opinion, this scenario is quite normal for writers – especially those who know their characters well or are getting to know them better.

I’m not sure what other people think about this, but my advice would be to embrace the actions of contrary characters – let them take you in the direction they want to go. Allow their world to be turned on its axis.

If you think that the direction your character is heading will add tension or conflict or enhance your story in some other way then go with it. If that means you have to adjust your plot outline then that’s what I would do.

Unknown-6I had an extreme case of this with my YA thriller series that I was awarded my May Gibbs Fellowship for.  One of my minor characters got so active and rebellious that she has ended up with a book of her own.

Writing a novel is constant process of evolution. As you progress, characters change, plots change and even you as a writer can change.

In some respects, a character is like an adventurous child – you have to give them the freedom to explore.

But unlike a child, your character should be encouraged to venture into danger. The more danger, the more at risk they are, the better.

Neridah, I hope this answers your question.

Have fun with your characters – let them loose, I say:)

If anyone would like to share their opinion or experience, feel free to comment at the end of this post. If you have a writing question of your own to ask, you can also use the comments section.

Thanks for your great questions Neridah.

Happy writing:)

Dee

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TESTIMONIALS

Your feedback is extremely valuable to me and has enriched my story so much – James

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TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – FIXING THE HOLES

The lure of gold can affect our objectivity

Last Wednesday, my goat, Molly got her head stuck in the fence…not once, not twice but three times. It’s not something she normally does, but she was lured by the bright yellow flowers on the other side of the fence.  She had to have them no matter what – her immediate goal got in the way of her common sense.

I sometimes think that this is what happens with writers yearning to get their work published. We are so focussed on the ultimate goal that we can’t be objective about our work – can’t deviate from what we are doing even though there may be a better way.

Molly getting her head stuck in the fence repeatedly also made me think about the fact that making the same mistakes over and over again (and not learning from them) is something that can hold our writing back. So how do we stop ourselves from doing this?

Here’s what I do:

I make a list of all the things I need to watch out for in my next draft.

  1. Are my characters interacting with the setting or have I just put description in?
  2. Have I made my plot too complicated?
  3. Have I developed my characters enough?
  4. Have I given my supporting characters different motives and focus?
  5. Have I used repetitive language?
  6. Has my character grown and changed during the course of the story?

Molly with her rebuilt fence. Unfortunately, fixing holes in manuscripts isn't so easy.

Although I ended up with blisters and was physically tired from fixing Molly’s fence, it didn’t take a great deal of brainpower to solve the problem. All I had to do was attach finer mesh to the existing fence and use fasteners to keep it in place.

FIXING HOLES IN MANUSCRIPTS

As I twisted and attached the wire, I thought about how fixing fences is much easier than fixing holes in manuscripts.

For starters, holes in manuscripts are much harder to identify. Here’s how I identify mine.

1.    Do a scene map identifying

  • Which characters are in each scene
  • The purpose of each scene
  • What my main character’s motivation in each scene is
  • Conflict in each scene
  • Whether the scene moves the story forward in the direction I want it to

2.      Once I have my scene map I compare it to my plot diagram and see where the scenes match up, and if it’s where they should.

3.      I look at turning points, the climax of the story and whether the resolution is strong enough.

4.      I look at whether I have left the appropriate clues for the reader – will they be hooked into the story all the way through?

In much the same way as the fence rebuilding, I hope to identify the holes and fill the gaps.

How do you identify holes in your story? I’d love you to share your techniques and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy Writing

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback and if you’d like to submit 150 words for feedback, email me Dee*at*DeeScribe*dot*com*dot*au

MY NANO EDITS – WEEK TWO – REVISITING THE PLOT

pieces of Letters to Leonardo plot

Last week I added all the missing bits to my NaNo story, The Gathering, I fixed plot inconsistencies, scenes out of order and I developed a time line. You can read about it here.

This week it’s time to move onto plot. This is when I go right back to where it all started – when I brainstormed and plotted my novel before I’d even written the first word.

This is where I go back to my brainstorming on butcher’s paper and my rough plot arc. It’s where the notes I made while writing the novel also come in handy.

This is where I add new plot points and fix those that aren’t working right. Sometimes I remove plot points that are slowing the story down or complicating it too much.

At every new draft I re-examine the plot and try and be ‘objective’ about the structure. Having the whole plot on a piece of paper in front of me helps me get my head around the whole story and identify what’s working and what’s not.

I start to link my brainstorming balloons according to theme and this helps me identify whether my themes are coming through strongly enough. This helps me see the weight I’ve given to each plot thread/theme. I work on the ones that need more emphasis and scale back the ones that have become too prominent.

The diagrams I have shown relate to my book, Letters to Leonardo not my current work in progress.

Sometimes there is too much happening in my plot and I  realise I need to get rid of some of the complicating factors and look deeper into the main plot points and develop them more. Janice Hardy has a great post about looking deeper in to plot. It’s all about looking into how the action relates to your protagonist.

Adding more pieces to the plot during revision

In this week’s editing I will look at the main pieces of action and ask myself:

  1. Have I built up the tension enough?
  2. Do the plot points advance the story logically?
  3. Do the plot points reveal character and build towards the climax?
  4. Is the climax big enough?
  5. Have I thrown my characters deep enough into conflict? (I’m someone who avoids conflict in real life and I have a tendency to let my characters do the same.)
  6. Will the resolution be satisfying to the reader?
  7. As The Gathering is the first in a trilogy I need to also look at whether it stands alone as a story and whether it can lead on to the next book.

During revision I step back and look at overall plot

In future editing I will be looking at whether the plot reflects the motivations and needs of my characters – whether what they do reflects who they really are.

Next week in the editing process I’ll be looking deep into character and voice. Hope you can join me then.

I’d love to hear how you rework your plot during the editing process. Feel free to share your tips and experiences.

Happy writing and editing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – HOW TO FIX ISSUES WITH YOUR PLOT

At times, I’ve had manuscripts back from publishers and fellow writers saying things like they liked the characters and the dialogue, but found the story line confusing. Every happened to you?

As writers we are so close to our story that we know exactly what we want to say – the hard part is that sometimes we don’t communicate it. What’s in our mind doesn’t always translate clearly to paper.

WHAT WENT WRONG

When I get the ‘confusing story’ feedback, this is what I do:

1.            If I have the chance to ask the person why the story confused them, then I do (This isn’t always possible with a publisher).

2.            I try to take a step back from my story and work out which bits might be confusing.

3.            I list the themes and issues in my story to help me work out if it’s confusing because there’s just too much happening.

4.            I look at the sequence of the story – too many flash backs or changes in the ‘story time’ can make it confusing.

5.            I look at my characters to see if the confusion is caused by some contradiction in them – perhaps there’s a character (or two) who hasn’t been developed enough.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

1.            GO BACK TO YOUR PLOT

How you do this depends on the way you work, but I’m a writer who likes to know where I’m going before I start writing my story, so I have a diagram of my plot using butcher’s paper and ‘post it’ notes.

This is the first place I go to try and fix plot issues. Having the plot diagram makes it really easy for me to see if there are things happening out of sequence in the story. Maybe the ‘post it’ notes need to be re-ordered to change the sequence of events.

2.            CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as that. If the plot arc doesn’t reveal the flaws, the next thing I would do is a 25 word summary for each chapter.

If I can’t say what a chapter is about in 25 words or less then the chances are that:

  1. The chapter might be too complex – too much happening
  2. The chapter is in the wrong place in the story
  3. The chapter doesn’t reveal the true voice or motives of my main character
  4. The chapter introduces/mentions too many characters
  5. The chapter doesn’t move the story along
  6. The chapter doesn’t clearly communicate what I want it to
  7. The chapter might not need to be there

If all else fails, pretend you are explaining the plot to someone who hasn’t read your story – it could be your cat, your dog or even your rabbit – it doesn’t have to be someone who will give you feedback.  The whole point of this is to clarify things in your mind. You can do this verbally or in writing.

It could be just that your plot needs simplifying and I find that this is soon revealed when I attempt to tell ‘someone’ what happens in the story.

OTHER PLOT PROBLEMS I HAVE DISCOVERED

Other flaws I have found with my plot are:

  • It doesn’t start at the right place – sometimes I find myself writing myself into the story and I need to start the story further on – after I’ve created the back story that I need as an author but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know.
  • Somewhere along the way my main character has lost their ‘voice’ so plot events and their reaction don’t quite fit together.
  • The sequence of the story needs to be re-ordered so that the action builds up to a climax.

It can be disheartening to get the ‘too confusing’ feedback, but all it means is that you haven’t communicated your message clearly to the reader. It’s not fatal, and if you try some of the methods I’ve discussed you’ll find that the problem can be fixed.

Happy writing

HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

I’m currently working on my next YA novel, Street Racer.

This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.

The problem was, he told me his story in verse.

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.

More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.

Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.

I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:

  1. I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
  2. I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
  3. The setting needs to be more clearly established.
  4. Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.

All these things were pointed out to me by my editor on the weekend – and she is absolutely right about every single one of them.

I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.

Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.

If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.

After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.

So hard as it is,  this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.

But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.

I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about

  • where he lives
  • what his relationships with his family and friends are
  • what makes him happy or sad
  • how he spends a typical day
  • how he sees himself
  • how others see him
  • the best thing that could happen to him would be
  • the worst thing that could happen to him would be
  • his biggest problem
  • how he’s going to solve it
  • things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants

Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.

I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.

And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.

Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 28

Today my Amazing May Gibbs Adventure officially ends, but for me and my new manuscript, it is really just the beginning. We are about to embark on a journey outside this May Gibbs apartment and who knows where it will take us.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here 28 days. What’s even harder to believe is that I’ve kept my promise to blog EVERY DAY.

I can’t wait to see my family, but when I reflect on the four weeks I have just spent, I’d have to say this has been the most wonderful and inspirational creative experience of my life.

When I came here, I had a goal to plan my three part YA psychological thriller series, and perhaps get 30 pages or so of the manuscript completed. I also planned to use the speedy internet to explore chat rooms and do valuable research.

In the twenty-eight days I have been here, this is what has actually happened.

  1. I have breakfasted, lunched and dined with some wonderful writerly friends, and made new ones while I was here.
  2. Completed the research I set out to do.
  3. Conducted eleven writing workshops for children.
  4. Plotted the three books in my new YA psychological thriller series.
  5. Developed character profiles for the important characters.
  6. Written a first draft of just over 55,000 words.
  7. Made a list of issues that need to be addressed in the next draft.
  8. Came up with a very rough new book idea and title.
  9. Came up with a second new book idea which I have researched and plotted.
  10. Did some of the edits for an existing YA novel.
  11. Blogged daily at this blog.
  12. Posted a writing tips blog every Tuesday.
  13. Became the new children’s book blogger for Boomerang Books and blogged regularly there for the last two weeks.

I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, and to me this goes to show what an inspirational experience a May Gibbs Fellowship is.

Thanks so much to Judith Russell from the May Gibbs Literature Trust for making me feel so at home (even moonlighting as the Easter Bunny). Thanks also to the May Gibbs Literature Trust itself for giving me this opportunity.

Thanks to all the staff at the State Library for organising my workshops and helping to keep them on track, and to my beautiful niece, Emma who came all the way from Byron Bay to visit me.

Thanks to my wonderful Brisbane writerly friends for making me feel as if I really am a resident of Brisbane; Sheryl, Julie, Maree, Lynn, Tina, Ally, Karen and Belinda.

Thanks also to everyone who has read this blog and supported me with  your comments and words of encouragement.

Last but not least, thanks to my wonderful husband and children who have given me the love, encouragement, support and freedom to explore my creativity.

And now I’m off to join my family, but I’ll most likely be back on Monday with news from the ‘real’ world and of course my Tuesday Writing Tip.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)