How to Keep Your Plot From Wandering

(for the non-outliners among us.)

 

 

 

Hello, world! I’m having a pretty intense lounge-about day, and I thought in the midst of lounging I could do some blogging as well. I got insipred by a Writing Excuses podcast to discuss the concept of controlling your plot without outlining your plot.

Pause for a moment. Most people talk about either being outliners, or “Pantsters,” people who write by the seat of their pants, on the fly. But most writers confess to falling somewhere in the middle. These middlers tend to have starting points and ending points, and even important plot milestones in between, but with lots of flexibility on how all those milestones are reached. I like to call them “headlighters” because of the E.L Doctorow quote that goes, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The casuality of writing with lots of plot flexibility is that your plot can wander. A lot. I’m experiencing this with SHUTTERBUG right now, and I find I have to be very conscious about staying on task.

So first lets discuss a few reasons your plot can wander.

 

Over-Exploring.

While writing you’ll come across lots of possibilities and what-ifs. Exploring all those possibilities can make the scope of your story creep bigger and bigger. In the first draft, there’s more wiggle room for this, but at some point, you’ll need to start being choosy about which ideas are worth exploring, or not.

Uncertainty.

This is a big one, especially for pansters, or folks who struggle writing beginnings. When you don’t have a good sense of what your story is about, the plot has no sense of focus, and so it tends to wander. This wandering is, in effect, you as the writer struggling to figure out where the heck all this is going–and this is why having a starting premise and some major milestones, like an inciting incident and climax, are so important.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

This problem has less to do with wandering, and more to do with waffling. When you’ve written yourself into a corner, it’s easy to blow huge amounts of wordcount on trying different ways to solve the problem. It’s like thinking aloud, except that thinking is happening on paper, and translates as a plot that doesn’t know what to do with itself.

Lack of Excitement, Interest, Stakes, Motivation…etc.

One of the last reasons a plot can wander is when you as the writer just aren’t that interested in what you’re writing. Maybe the story shifted gears, somehow, and you’re not so interested in the new direction it’s taking. Or maybe you’re bored with the plot elements you’re supposed to be working on. Often this translates into writer’s block, but when you push through it, you might find the next sections of story to feel fragmented and unfocused. Either you wrote the boring parts and they came out, well, boring, or you threw exciting elements in there for the sake of interest, and they don’t relate well to the rest of the plot.

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So here’s how we go about fixing a wandering plot.

 

If your problem is over-exploring, try: Focusing.

If your story has gotten swamped with too many possibilities, you’ll need to cut some back. It’s way too easy to bunny-trail in a novel where you have so many delicious things that can crop up in a single scene of dialogue. Focus by going back to what is important for your plot. What is important for this next section of story? What does this scene need to communicate? If ideas suggest themselves to you, make a note if you can, and move on.

 

If your problem is uncertainty, try: Brainstorming & Planning.

Basically, you need a sense of where the story is going. So brainstorm. Run yourself through some basic exercises. What’s your premise? What’s your plot, in a nutshell? Go look up a detailed version of the 3 or 5 Act structure, and try to compare your story to those plot movements. Janice Hardy has an incredible set of blog posts (part one, part two) about plot movements. And even when I don’t follow them strictly, they make great benchmarks to compare my story against.

Because what you really need to do here is nail down where your plot ought to go next. What have you done in terms of plot movement, and what needs to happen next? You’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming to come up with the milestones that will help give your plot a sense of purpose, but once you do, it will be a lot easier to know where to go next and how to get there.

 

If you’ve written yourself into a corner, try: Re-evaluating.

There are a couple reasons we write ourselves into corners. One is that we’ve come up with a problem we don’t know how to solve. Another is that we followed a bunny-trail, and now it dead-ended. Another is that the plot took a wrong term somewhere, and we don’t know how to get it back on track.

So take a step back. Re-evaluate. And do some brainstorming. If it’s a problem you can’t solve, but you know it’s vital to the main plot, do some serious brainstorming; share the problem with other writers; ask people for advice. Even non-writers can be helpful, because talking about it might be the breakthrough you needed. If you followed a bunny trail, though, or your plot took a wrong turn–and you may have to do a lot of re-evaluating before you decide this–you may need to back up. Way up. Back to when the plot seemed like it was going strong. And then…start over, from there. This one HURTS, because it means losing precious wordcount. But sometimes it’s easier (and better) to start over right, than try to figure out where you went wrong.

 

If your problem is boredom, try: Writing Something Exciting!

This one is deceptive. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a boring story. So when we get bored, we think, oh, this is writer’s block; I need to push through. But if you’re bored with what you’re writing, it’s likely because you’re writing something boring. I’m not trying to be pithy. It’s just, it’s true, isn’t it? The book won’t be exciting if you’re not excited in it.

So switch it up. Do something interesting. That could be something small, like moving a scene to a new setting, or swapping out a character. Or it could be bigger. Cutting old characters. Making new ones. Switching the POV character or the main plot goal. Even changing the season or city/town/area your story is set in can help, because these have a huge effect on ambiance and mood, which can really darken or lighten the story your telling, and thus, the type of story itself. Maybe you were writing the wrong kind of story all along.

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So there are my tips and tricks. I’ve definitely struggled with this before, but never so badly as I have with SHUTTERBUG (in this case, I’m over-exploring. Waaaaaay over-exploring. Focusing has been TOUGH.) And if all else fails, pass the story along to your betas, and ask, do you have any advice? Chances are they’ll have enough different ideas that it will jog something loose and give you a sense of where to start.

And if even that fails…you could also try outlining.

Ahem. COUGH.

sincerely and always and sarcasm,
-Mandy

 

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Monthly Pinspiration #3

Hey guys! So you know I was doing weekly Pinspiration posts for a while, but I soon realized that actually doing them weekly felt too frequent, and that I was ending up doing them monthly anyway. So I decided to switch. This month’s Pinspiration reflects where my thoughts have been trending lately — superpowers. More on that later, perhaps? For now, go play Radioactive or Midnight City or The Sun and enjoy the pins. I hope they put you in a creative mood like they do for me 🙂

 

 

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Recent Reads, (belated) August Edition

Hello world! And welcome to another round of, “let’s play catchup, shall we?”

I’m FINALLY getting around to all those posts I had planned / half-written. One of them had to do with two of my favorite subjects. Books! And reading! So many yays.

 

So here’s what I’ve read since the last recent reads:

 

Blog---August

And here’s the breakdown.

 

Series I’m in the Midst Of:

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter, Gallagher Girls #5

The Titans Curse by Rick Roirdan, Percy Jackson And the Olympians #3

These were both fun reads, but at the same time, I realized I’m starting to plow through these series less for the book I’m reading at the moment, and more for the drama of the series that I’m hoping to absorb simply by reading it. If that makes sense. There are a crazy set of fans for the Percy Jackson series, and I know a big part of my motivation is to try and get a little bit of what they have when reading it.

So basically I realized that I need to slow down and start absorbing these series more, devouring less. I think I might set them both aside for a while and pick up later when I’m able to enjoy them more 🙂

 

Books With Buzz & First Books in a Series:

 

The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Archived #1

Pivot Point by Kasie West, Pivot Point #1

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede, Psi Chronicles #1

I can’t believe I finally read these! I feel very, very belated about it, but am so excited to have finally checked out for myself what everyone else was raving about.

And I can say it was well-deserved. The Archived was certainly unique and interesting. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t devour it so quickly (yes, this is an issue with me.) I’m not a big fan of any kind of ghost story, and I don’t like creepy, but I did enjoy this. Am waffling just a teensy bit about whether to follow this series or not (like a lot of other people, I have series burnout right now.) But at this point I definitely plan on giving book #2, The Unbound, a try.

As for Pivot Point–holy bleeping goodness! I was so glad I gave this one a shot. Sometimes a book is good, and sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s rave-worthy. I’m not sure what it was about Pivot Point, but I just LOVED it. The main character was likeable (even if her falling for mr. superpower guy was annoying) (but that gets explained in a REALLY satisfying way later.) I loved mr. normal guy and her relationship with him. I loved the concept, and especially how that concept was explored and how you see it breaking down to everyday life, and holy smokes, the way the two storylines began entangling together and finally resolving just kept the tension amping up and up until that twist at the end–which I was not expecting at all. Except I had the deliciously horrible uneasy sensation that something was wrong. I was missing something. And I was right.

Great book, and am definitely on board for the sequel. I want to see how Cassie can manage to recapture the life she had explored with her abilities and see how all the new elements play out.

As for Freakling, I loved the premise for this MG, and loved the book even more. The concept was really well explored and I found myself seeing little hints of Enders Game mixed with The Unwanteds, but somehow better than that combination might sound. It was fun and very mature without being too dark or intense, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a series though? I’m not sure. It read very much like a stand-alone, and I’m curious but a bit hesitant as to how the author could continue the premise through the series, given how it ended. Definitely plan on checking book #2 out, uncertain how I will feel about it.

 

Last But Not Least:

 

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

 

 

So, I was excited to read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal because she is one of the amazing Writing Excuses podcasters. I’ll be honest. I love those guys. I’ve been waiting for them all to get published books in genres I enjoyed, and it’s finally happening — Dan Wells has Partials and the sequel Fragments, Brandon Sanderson now has a YA sf/fantasy coming out that sound AWESOME (it’s called Steelheart and it involves normal humans banding together to fight superpower villains. What!!!) So. Yes. Anyway. Shades of Milk and Honey. I quite enjoyed it although, as a rabid Pride & Prejudice fan, I have to admit I was comparing nearly every plot movement to the original story. Am planning to read the continuing books in the series and am hoping for more shenanigans 🙂

 

Lottery by Patricia Wood — What a cute story! I picked this up because the author got published around the time I was very active on Absolute Write, and she was an active member as well. Plus I’m a sucker for any kind of developmental disabilities or learning impairment stories. And Lottery did not disappoint. I admit, I really hoped his relatives would get their just end, and not a single cent of his money. But despite all the ups and downs, it had an excellent ending and I was so proud of him by the end. Definitely worth the read (despite some sexual language and scenes and a bit of swearing, which I could have done without.) If you haven’t given it a try and you don’t mind skimming the rated parts, it’s a fantastic story 🙂

 

As for Ice by Sarah Beth Durst — I’d heard this is one of the best East of Sun, West of Moon and Tam Lin retelling out there. But Sarah Beth Durst is such a hit or miss for me. I LOVED her Drink, Slay, Love and I enjoyed Vessel, but found myself pretty disappointed in Enchanted Ivy and now in Ice. Her voice is so different from book to book, and Ice didn’t have the maturity of writing style I had honestly expected. Durst has another YA coming out soon, Conjured, so hopefully this will be another one to love.

 

In conclusion! I had a pretty decent reading month. Not as exciting as I’d hoped, since I really only felt Pivot Point and Freakling were rave worthy, and I had been hoping for multiple raves this month. But I definitely enjoyed the books I read, and it was GREAT to have something to read when I got home after those long days at work.

Well. Phew. That was my belated reading in August. A lot of new books come out this month, so hopefully/maybe I’ll have a really exciting Recent Reads for you in a few weeks.

What have you guys read recently?

Truly and always!

-Mandy