My Character Took a Turn

While it isn’t my main character, a major character in the book revealed that he had something to do with one of the Bad Events. He seemed neutral at the beginning, a necessary bridge between protagonist and antagonist and someone who worked with both.

I suppose it all started when a different character – who was supposed to remain in the backstory – left traces of herself from the first page and arrived front and center when my protagonist needed an ally.

So much for my outline- except I’m still following the outline. I don’t believe in cornering myself with the details. I discover it as I write it, with the outline more like a street map. And just like my GPS system, every now and then it tells me to take a u-turn at 70 mph through a four-foot concrete barrier. I always choose not to follow that advice. I’m nearly at the destination now, and I know if I keep writing I’ll find my way.

I’m always amazed by well-meaning other writers who don’t know me well. They say “save it for later.” I’m not going to fix this guy. Except to make this reveal seem planned after the rewrite, of course.

Then, I thought, Man, your wife is way too cool for you. But maybe she also knew. I guess I’d better check in with her and see.

I hear it’s good for characters to get lives of their own, but they definitely make my book interesting. I also can’t wait to see how it turns out – even though I am following an outline. I’m not sure I could write this book without some kind of guide. I think I’m 125k words in, and I’m not sure where it will end.

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The Time for Plotting Never Passes

Some people can begin at the beginning and keep writing until the end. I don’t happen to be one of those people. I find myself mired in the ways that the story could go, and somewhere in the middle it fizzles out if I don’t know where I’m headed. Conventional wisdom says to dump something in a sagging middle like a dead body or have aliens land, but it doesn’t always work for me.

It always returns to plot. I have less trouble with my characters getting in line. I have been taking time out this month to try to correct my plot fizzling issues. Somehow I know there must be a way to carry everything through to the end while being true to my original vision of what the novel is supposed to say (and why I don’t have aliens land on the kitchen table in my contemporary YA).

To that end, I have been trying out several different ways to see a plot through, from randomly typing out from the beginning (which is why I know it isn’t working for me) to setting everything out scene by scene (which I know runs a large risk of me taking a left turn about halfway through).

I always liked the look of traditional outlines but never thought they fit me very well. Or maybe I just liked that they had such an orderly form with the roman numerals and all the other stuff thrown in. Lately I’ve also attempted to type a bare bones summary in prose form to see where that led me. Turns out the answer was ‘in circles’. I still use that method to organize my thoughts to find connections between pieces that I’m not sure fit together but seem to have possibilities.

Then I also stumbled into some worksheets. You can find them in books, too, like First Draft in 30 Days or Book in a Month. I haven’t progressed to filling them out in order, but taking time to pour over them has pushed my thinking into that kind of system. What was the climax? What is my internal or external conflict? What else do I need to get my characters from point A to point B or what obstacle do they need to overcome in order to get to this spot?

While they can be a good tool, I’m also trying not to stuff too much into them. I like giving my characters a little room to breathe while they get through the novel. When I originally drafted Don’t Tell Your Mother I only had a vague notion of what the end was going to be, and then as I got to each segment I’d write a sentence about what the next scene would be so I wouldn’t lose my place in the story if I got interrupted. [It really is a bummer, but there comes a time I must sleep.]

I’ve also read lately about Scrivener (which I thought I had blogged about, but apparently I just looked at it) being a good tool for novelists because of the functionality to rearrange things at ease. There are other software programs that also do this kind of thing, and I’m sure each has advantages and disadvantages.

It’s going to take some time for me to perfect my method of plotting, and I might just come to the conclusion that each project takes something different and it will depend entirely on my inner vision of the story. If nothing else, I’m enjoying learning the different methods and how each might be implemented to help (or hinder) my progress.

What do you choose to use to plot novels? Have you tried other methods? What did that teach you about your writing and plotting?

Synopsis vs Outline

Writing the story is the fun part. All the rest can come later.

However, the time has come for later – and I find I really hate this synopsis. I hate the outline, too, but I can’t argue with them being valuable tools at some stage.

I wrote this novel draft piece by piece, knowing only what came a little farther ahead and where I wanted to the end. That means I kept writing until I got to the end, realized that I needed a little more wrap-up and I fixed that. Except I’m still not done.

Now’s where it gets tricky. I have an outline. It follows each chapter and the events that happen. Through the rewrite it is not completely up to date but it’s manageable. I keep making notes on where to change it and it’s slowly coming out in the novel rewrite. It’s also about three pages single-spaced, and growing, and too long for my word count to be directly funneled into a synopsis.

I took it to a writing conference some time ago, so I already wrote the synopsis. It handles only the major plot points from the beginning to the end and stands by itself at less than two pages double-spaced. All major characters, including the cat, are mentioned and show movement throughout.

The current issue between the two of them is that they’re not in agreement. Not completely. Sure, I can find every single point from the synopsis in the outline, but they’re not exactly in order. Is that a problem? I’m not sure, but it makes me want to rethink and reorganize both of them until they’re more in agreement.

That sort of brings me to the point where I’m at war with both of them. It’s ugly and it’s bloody (because I’m using a red pen, of course), and it’s only going to get worse when I scrap them both and start revisions on the manuscript with the pieces. I know it will work out eventually, but I hate this stage a little bit. I want to know if I have all my plot points nailed and if the book is saying what I want it to say: synopsis. However, I also need to keep the rest of it flowing well and honing in on the goal with the character development and the other events that foreshadow the big pieces: outline.

Send supplies in the form of finger foods and an energetic nanny. It wouldn’t hurt to clone me. Then one could go to my jobs and play with my toddler while the other one huddled in solitary and simply finished the stories. Wait – let’s make two clones. That toddler business is full-time.

And on to the next outline challenge!

Why? I finished my 15-20 word outline for Don’t Tell Your Mother. It turned out as 18 words and focuses my intent more.

It also changes my draft quite a bit now that I’m getting into the third. (I think it’s the third draft. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track.)

It’s in a good way, though. I had been trying to get there, but something kept stopping me. I’ve been having issues putting my inciting incident into a short bit of words. A phone call took me to the heart of it.

I love how the brain swirls into something you’d forgotten you were thinking about. Perhaps that’s just me.

So with my new, short outline, I will be fixing my longer synopsis. Then I’ll be ready to dig into Chapter 3 and beyond!

Of course, Chapter 2 needs a few more shades to get there. Maybe I ought to start there first.

I think I’ll decide after I fix the synopsis. Priorities, y’know.

Not too long after that I will be able to figure out what to do with those two short outlines I also finished for yesterday. Both have working titles and one has a strong main character who has made herself known.

I can’t hide from them forever.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

Is it really June 1 already? Remind me not to give myself deadlines over holiday weekends, especially when there are party plans in progress.

While I’m still struggling with my outline of Don’t Tell Your Mother with all the new changes, I had two straggling ideas come to be much clearer through the process. Why does it always happen that way?

And I keep scratching out lines for the outline I’m supposed to be finishing. If it would just play nicely – but no amount of arm-twisting will put it in line. Probably because I don’t think of my novels having arms.

Fifteen to twenty words for an outline was the challenge. So I have two that might work, though one doesn’t have an actual name for the main character. She’s there, though, somewhere. Just waiting to reveal herself when I’m halfway into another project, I’m sure.

Characters can be so difficult that way. They require constant vigilance to keep them in line. Even if you let them run free you have to make certain they don’t start going in circles. Some of them will do nothing but chase their tails. Humans and characters both need a lot of motivation to keep moving.

I have motivation – I just have too much to do.

It doesn’t explain why all the ideas start popping in my head at once, but I believe it’s just another quirk of being a writer. Ideas swarm the skull as soon as I choose one to focus on. That’s what a slush pile is for. It holds the extras until I’m ready to develop them.

Or until they take over my thoughts completely. One way or another, the stories that really want to get written, get written. Eventually I have no choice!

Not that I mind much. I love writing and developing stories, worlds, and characters. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if they were gone.

I’ll keep working to revise the outline for my current project, though. The worst that can happen is developing the other two into series… Wait- that already looks like a possibility.

Maybe I’ll just retreat into a corner with my notebook and pen and start chanting in Sanskrit.

Digging Into Plot

Yesterday I pulled out my synopsis and I started making notes. Finally!

I’m really glad I wrote the synopsis now. It makes it easier to figure out where to change things. My notes are in dark blue, littering the typed pages.

Today I think I’ll add green or purple, whichever I can find first. I like adding a different color to show different kinds of work, and today I’ll be making a new line for the plot. It might take two or three times to get where I need to go and changing colors in the notes helps me see which direction I’m going.

As opposed to all black and white- then I’ll forever be scratching things out that don’t work.

Makes me think I should’ve done all this work before I wrote the book, but I didn’t develop the synopsis first.

Why oh why didn’t I do the synopsis first?

Well, I suppose I haven’t yet outlined a book before I’ve written it. The Art of Science might have been the exception because I had a chapter guide before I wrote it – but that one changed away from the outline version completely, too.

Do any of those writing books out there mention the people who have to write the rough draft before being able to look at the plot structure and make it better? I wonder if I might be one of those people.