Monday, December 26, 2011

WIPping Up Your Plot: First Draft

I'm stellar at character therapy (okay, maybe exaggerating there), but when it comes to plot weaving and pacing, I feel like I need a course for the galactically challenged.

I love to dream up a great premise for a new WIP (work in progress). I love to look at a picture like the old house above and wonder who lived there, what lives did they lead?

I love the "meet-cute"--remember in the movie the Holiday when Arthur Abbot is explaining to the main character, played by Kate Winslett, that the meet-cute is that first moment when the leading lady meets the leading gentleman, their eyes connect--and there's that first spark. Before that moment, she was just going about her life, trying to make sense of it. But in that moment, she becomes the leading lady in her own story. To me that's not being over-romantic, or ridiculously mushy. It's beautiful. God made everyone to be the leading lady or leading gentleman in their own story.

(I digress) Ok, so you get it, I love that part.

I love seeing how the leading lady and gentleman's everyday lives collide and connect, like attracting and opposing magnets, dancing around each other until they figure out how it works.

So, what's the issue with plotting?----I get STUCK somewhere soon after the meet-cute! Ugh.

What do you do when you get stuck?
So far, this is the recommended plan:
1) Cry on your crit partner's shoulder--and pray that God sends you a crit partner whose strengths build up your weaknesses. Your CP can see the holes in your plot, tell you if your twists and turns are too cliche, unbelievable, or too slow and lacking tension.

2) Get organized. Some writer's use a software writing program like Scrivner. Or you can use the old fashioned note card system and write out your plot points, and arrange them visually so you can see the overall picture. Keep a notebook or word documents and files of your story development and outline.

3) Know your skeleton. Nope, not the kind hidden in the closet. I mean, have a framework for your plot points. Do some craft reading from the experts. I like James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, Michael Hauge & Christopher Vogler's DVD: The Hero's Two Journeys, and Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

4) Get inspired when you get stuck. Sit back and reread your WIP start to finish. Stop your writing mid scene and pick up there the next day. Read something old and favorite, or a favorite author sitting on your TBR pile. Watch a favorite movie. Do some research on the setting, occupations, fashion, or the history of the era you're writing.

5) Start asking yourself more questions about your MC's. Why? is the best way to find the motivation for your character's goals and actions. If you don't like the answer you get, feel like it's too flat, cliche, and unbelievable--switch it up, up the stakes, twist it further.

This all helps, but I'm still feeling like my WIP has whipped me.
It feels more like the time I thought I'd learn to quilt. I bought all the fabric with my grandma Emma. I traced and cut all the pieces and stacked them in neat piles, arranged by color. I pieced the first two or three blocks for the flowers of the Grandmother's Flower Garden, then stalled. The bigger it got, the harder it was to hold it all together. So, I shipped it off the Grandma Emma and she quilted the rest of it and returned it to me for our wedding--a beautiful finished product.

Donald Maass says in Writing the Breakout Novel, "It is tough to build surprises and hold readers in thrall when following a strict formula." He explains the best way to surprise readers is to embark on a plot that is "expandable, possibly long and certainly complex" leaving room  for the story to "go in unexpected directions, take detours, add layers, surprise us."

I feel excited yet overwhelmed by the great possibilities my WIP might have if I let my story evolve.
But then Donald Maass makes me feel normal in the next paragraph stating: "it can be a scary prospect, this buisness of writing large. In midmanuscript a breakout novelist can feel lost, ovewhelmed by possible scenes and the challenge of tying up every thread."

Then he said the words that iced the cake for me:
"breakout novels sprawl."

Yes! that's precisely it!  I'm about to go sprawling! Hurling and unfurling is more like it.
Uh-oh, trembling, I see this is all explained under the heading entitled Inventing Your Own Advanced Plot Structure. YIKES!  I'm not advanced yet. I want to shrink back. Outlines, conflict, layers--oh no! My shoulders slump. I sigh and inside ask myself why I am doing this at all. Doubts creep in closer---until I think of my MC's stuck in the middle of their untold story. Until I think of the greatness of story and how it holds the power to create meaning, to transform lives, to beckon souls, and send forth a beacon of light in the darkness.

I square my shoulders, its time to punt.

I hope this inspires you, and I'd love to hear from you:
What helps you plot when your WIP has whipped you?
What keeps you writing when doubts creep in?
How do you deal with the sprawl?


  1. I cry. I get coffee. I read a good book. I call you. Then I get off my duffer and start writing again. :)

  2. You go girl! Bring on the coffee! :o)