- First, revisit the fundamentals. What are the motivations of all the key players? How do these and their desired objectives conflict? I then ask myself - how can I up the stakes in order to heighten this conflict and thwart those objectives? Given that most of my issues arise in the dreaded 'sagging middle' these questions help me focus on what needs to be accomplished.
- This step enables me to start brainstorming plot ideas and situations that can heighten these stakes and which ensure the characters drive the action forward. In this second step I try to remain wide open to all options and constantly ask myself 'what if?'...leaving open almost all possibilities (except those that are inconsistent with the characters I have created).
- Up until this point I make absolutely no edits to the manuscript - because usually (and this is the case at the moment) the bones of the story are solid and the characters are well developed. I usually start and end a book strongly (small comfort) but the last thing I want to do is start tinkering with the middle until I know exactly what I'm going to do. This is a delicate time as I have to ensure that any plot alterations do not destroy what is currently working well in the story.
- Before I start editing I draw up a detailed plot map of the revised story and check that the new course of action is true to the characters motivation and that the stakes, now heightened, haven't become ludicrous or comical...
- Then and only then do I start rewriting...hoping, of course, that the new plot permutations propel my story to a successful denouement!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Propelling the Plot
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I'm in a bit of a slump today as my planned trip to London this evening has been thwarted by a volcano in Iceland (one which, BTW, my husband and I saw on our trip to Iceland a few years ago - though it was dormant at the time). I don't react well to disappointment (a trait which I need to overcome as a professional writer!), but I can hardly complain given how many people are stranded far from home. Still, I'm mourning the fact that I won't be able to spend time with my folks over a pint, a bag of crisps and a pork pie..:(
Instead, I get to work through some plot changes to my current WIP based on the terrific insight of my agent (who always seems to know exactly what is wrong with my drafts). Now plot is not one of my strong points...that's not to say nothing happens in my books (I don't suffer from that particular literary pretension), it's just that I often fail to ensure that my characters propel the plot forward. Despite being an outliner, sometimes I allow my characters to get swept up in the events that envelop them, reacting to the situation rather than creating and shaping the story themselves.
So how do I approach fixing this? After I have gone through the initial phase of despondency, hair-pulling and chocolate binging I approach the issue systematically (with my usual dose of neurosis).
These are the steps I plan to take this week to address my latest case of 'plot deficiency disorder'.
So how do you approach plot issues? What steps do you take to remedy a 'sagging plot'? (All and any tips greatly appreciated as I have a long week of thinking ahead of me!)
I also strongly recommend reading the book Plot & Structure by my fellow blogger, James Scott Bell - it has some great advice which I only wish I followed more often!