The Plot Thickens
Picture it: You’re having one of the best writing days you’ve had in weeks. Your fingers are flying, words are bombarding the blank page with reckless abandon. Sentences become paragraphs become scenes become chapters. You’re loving it. It’s the most brilliant prose anyone has ever composed.
And Bam! You hit a wall. Your stuck. A plot point dropped on you like a ton of bricks, and you can’t see a way around it. You turn around to look at all that came before this point, and you gasp. It’s horrible! The carnage laid waste behind you is a bloody mess.
None of it makes sense. You reread your brilliant words and you cringe. How did this happen? How did you get here?
It’s a common problem. Maybe not this dramatically, but rest assured you are not alone.
It’s easy to lose sight of your story’s plot. Either we didn’t have a good grasp of what it was when we sat down to write, or we fed it too much and it became a monstrous mess twists and turns and pink bunnies.
Yes, pink bunnies. You know it’s true.
So, how do we fix this problem? Better yet, how do we avoid it?
Good news: Mastering your plot is easier than you think.
How to Master Your Plot
Step 1: Define Your Plot
One sentence. Boil your entire story down to one sentence.
Sound familiar? It should.
This is what you have to do for your story’s pitch. When you query agents or publishers about your story, you have to boil it all down to one attention grabbing sentence. The difference here is that you’re not going to worry about attention grabbing. Focus on the heart of your story. What is it about?
Creative-Writing-Now.com defines the plot as “what happens in the story and the order it happens in.”
Get that into one sentence, and you can keep control of your plot.
Step 2: Build Your Story Structure
Remember back when I wrote about How You Should Structure Your Story? You’re going to need that here. Take your one sentence heart of your story defined in step one, and stretch it over the five core pieces that every story needs.
I know what you’re thinking, you pantsers out there, I just write, I don’t plot out my stories.
Truth time: Even if you don’t write it down, you structure your story. Some writers can do it in their heads. Others need it on paper (or screen). Either way, you build structure. If you don’t, your story will be a mess. Guaranteed.
Confession Time: I often say I let the story tell itself. I just write whatever comes to mind. It works for my flash fiction. Anything longer than that? Not so much. I’ve tried too many times to write without structuring my plot. Each time the story fell apart in multiple places. Each time.
When I build the structure based on my defined plot, my story has the freedom it needs.
Step 3: Review Your Plot Definition
Multiple times during your writing process. Write it down and tape it to your computer or your desk or somewhere where you can see it regularly. Keep that definition, that heart of your story, easily accessible and make sure your structure stays true to it. Test every chapter against it, every scene. If it’s pulling away from your core in any way, drop it.
Step 4: Be Flexible
Like any good set of writing rules, be ready to break them at any time. It is highly possible that your plot definition needs tuning as you go along with your story. Sometimes, your characters define a better story for you. That’s great. Write that one down and use it to test your chapters and scenes.
Writer’s Digest points out 11 Plot Pitfalls and they give great ideas on how to rescue your story from them. They know what they’re talking about, so it’s a good idea to take a look.
However, if you follow these four steps discussed in this post, you will Master Your Plot and avoid the common pitfalls from the beginning.
If you Master Your Plot, you will find that your story will write itself.
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