What Happened To My Plot Line?
Have you ever left your story to go get that third or fourth cup of coffee, come back and discovered that between the time you sat down to write that morning and your current espresso, you’ve misplaced your plot line? You knew when starting out what needed to get written and where you wanted to end for the day, but as soon as you started doing the usual ‘quickie read through’ before hitting the ‘Save’ icon on your Word doc., you realize someone has written twenty pages of story line that has nothing to do with carefully thought out plot line you’d spent hours and hours putting together.
You look under the desk, in the waste basket, you even check under the couch or bed convinced that someone who was capable of typing over a thousand words per minute (flawlessly I might add) came in while you were out in the other room, erased everything you’d written that day and added another twist to the story without discussing it with you first.
When I wrote the first draft of my novel I had a rough idea of what I wanted the story to be about and the conflicts my characters were going to have to overcome. Because I wrote the original in the first POV as a fantasy where my characters deal with paranormal cross cultural issues, I found myself having to do a certain amount of world building, but not so much that it took too much time out of regular writing sessions.
The last word on the last page gave me a sense of accomplishment – but not much else. For numerous reasons I won’t go into on this blog I found myself re-writing the first draft with so many changes that I basically wrote an entirely different story; one that required tons of world building, greater character development and a much stronger and yes, complex plot line. It also meant that staying on track was going to require a lot more work than having a rough idea of who the characters are, where they need to go and how I planned to get them there. It meant that I now had to spend a great deal of time mapping things out, doing back stories, and because I’m a very visual person developing tools that allow me to continually look at where my characters are, where they need to be and are going.
In the journey of looking for better methods of staying on track I tried a lot of other writer’s suggestions. For the most part they were great tips. Some like those who contribute to The Writer’s Craft actually gave you templates to use (after a little adaptation of my own I now use their Character and Scene Templates). But the bottom line is, as much as I need the perimeters of a plot line to keep me on task, I also have to have the freedom to change things up if the characters tell me to. There has to be room for twists and turns that I can’t see until we’re actually there.
So how have I managed to do that and not lose my plotline? I followed the advice of Sol Stein (a master editor) as well as that of Terry Brooks (my all time favorite author). Scenes! I map out the scenes that I want to take place (Stein recommended 3 x 5 index cards with the scene names written on them) and then think about what is the best possible way to arrange them so that their story gets told without losing the plot; this way my characters still have the freedom to enlarge the story while I maintain control over how it goes.
Is it perfect? No. Does it still need tweaking? Most definitely! But it is a beginning and it is allowing me to creative a far more complex story line without suddenly feeling like I’ve lost the oars to the boat and have no idea which was is north and which way is south. I like to think of it as adding tools to my writing tool box. Hopefully by the second novel I’ll have enough tools that I won’t find myself needing to change the first re-write so much.
From the laptop of an uncensored dreamer