Trusting the Plot

plotting a story can be a scary headache.

Plots are tricky beasts, aren't they? Visuals can help. Sometimes. Image c/o flickr user HJ Media Studios.

The past week of writing has been both hard and great. I made a LOT of changes to the plot of the YA fantasy I’m working on. But I’ve also had some breakthroughs and I feel much more confident about the direction I’m going in.

But I’m still having a hard time letting go.

I miss the plot points that have been wiped away. Some of them had to do with the essential premise of my story. Saying goodbye to those also means I have to rewrite, retool and rework a LOT of the copy I have so far.

Plotting is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing for me.

“What if?”

It’s the question that drives so much of my writing, thinking of weird premises and possibilities, brainstorming impossibly awkward situations to put characters in and so on. But it also holds me back. As I was looking at my plot, the whole of it, it was hard to commit. What role will a certain secondary character play in the climax? I couldn’t decide between heroically saving the day, getting fatally wounded, or a dozen other possibilities. As soon as I’d settled on one, my brain would answer with a, “But what if… what if…?”

A lot of being able to move forward with writing is learning to TRUST THE PLOT–that is, finding the strand of storyline grabs me, sticks to me, and gets me excited. To have faith that when tugged, that plot strand will stay firmly attached rather than coming loose or flying apart. Trusting that following the storyline may lead somewhere different than I expected, but that it will still be wonderful and exciting and worthwhile.

While I have been plagued with indecisiveness, I am making progress! I’ve managed to meet my January 2011 writing goals:

  1. Plot the whole story.
  2. Write 7500 words.

And I’ll be starting on my February goal, which is simply to write 15k words. Which will hopefully put me a third of the way through my novel! Woooo.

Do you have trouble “making decisions” about your story/book/plot? How do you move forward with confidence?

3 thoughts on “Trusting the Plot

  1. COngrats on meeting your January goal. I better make my goal for Feb. to keep my editing commitment to you! :) I love you.

  2. Hi Elyssa,
    I’ve had the exact same problem for years now while imagining all if the directions a graphic novel concept could go. I have a slew of scenes I’d love to use, but they contradict eachother and have a hard time deciding. Have you found any more methods that have helped you with the indecisiveness, and are you making flow charts like your example image to help eliminate dead ends?
    Nice to hear someone put the challenge into words! Thanks,

    • Brad,

      I’m significantly further along now than I was when I wrote this.

      Some things that I’ve learned:

      1. Get to know your characters. Sometimes simply getting to know them, their challenges, their background, morality, abilities etc. will eliminate certain scenes. I think that character consistency — finding the core of your characters, and following the thread of THEIR story — I think that really helps.

      2. Just get started. My plot was something I had to think a lot about, and as I went along things became apparent. I put in scenes that I felt like I had to, or others simply because I didn’t know what else to add. Ultimately, those can be edited out or tightened, or I can add the scenes in that are needed. But as I’ve found the momentum of the story and followed it, I’ve come across surprising solutions or possibilities that become the clear choice.

      3. I would recommend “Plot versus Character: a Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction” as a useful guide that can help you get to know your characters and find the main thread of their story, and to structure a strong plot around that.

      Thanks for reading, Brad — let me know if this helps at all!

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