I’ve lost the plot

Right now I’m about ready to go looking, because it may have chewed a hole through the fence and gone a’wandering. And worst of all, it’s taken the other one with it. I wonder if I put up flyers, looking for the return of one space opera, novel-sized plot, and one urban fantasy, novella-sized, if anyone would respond with the big guy and his little sidekick? No?

What do you mean, it’s because they’re invisible and exist in my own head? You think I’d lose my mind like that?

Wait. Don’t answer that…

What’s happened is that I finally was able to fit writing daily into my routine again. And of course, with the new discipline I intended to work on the novel-in-progress, which at 40K words in the manuscript seemed like, you know, it would already have a plot. Which it does. I think. Somewhere. As I was bemoaning my confounded frustrations in the writing channel, a friend offered to take a look for me. Sometimes another set of eyes will catch what you are missing. It would be nice if he’d find the plot (metaphorically) hiding under the bed while I’d been running around the neighborhood thinking I need to scrap it all and re-write from the beginning.

And since the friend is a busy man, I turned to another work, rather than sit on my hands waiting for my baby to come home again. I plunged in, working at 500-1000 words a day, and yesterday I looked at my content and thought… dangit!

Being a pantser is a pain in the toochis. I can feel in the seat of my pants, if I’m riding, which way the horse is going to go, usually (ears are another good clue). The problem with this metaphor as applied to writing is similar to riding, actually. You know where they are going, until they aren’t. With a horse, this is usually a shy, when they spook and lose their adorable walnut brain at a stray leaf or stick that looks nothing like a snake. They go one way, with no warning whatsoever, orthogonal to the way they were signaling an instant before, and the laws of conservation of momentum dictate the rider go in another. There’s nothing like that feeling when you find yourself in midair, then the ground smacks you in the face.

With writing, these sudden changes can sometimes be great for your plotting. That twist the reader doesn’t see coming. That plot kink the writer had to frantically ret-con into the earlier part of the book, so there’s enough foreshadowing it doesn’t throw the reader violently out of the book. More often, it’s like looking up and realizing you’re lost. You weren’t paying attention, and you shoulda taken a left turn at Albuquerque, and now you’ve lost the plot entirely.

Fortunately, in real life you can get up, dust the leaves and mud off yourself (puddles are also lethal, a horse will assure you. Could be quicksand. Can’t step in that!) and then remount. In writing, you can scroll back to the beginning, and read through, making notes (if you’re smart, unlike me, who tends to lose them if she did scribble them somewhere) of what the plot was to begin with. Once you start to see the shape take form, then you’ll have a much better idea of how to find the dang thing. You can’t find your invisible friend if you don’t know what he looks like.

If you’ll pardon me, I’m off with my metaphorical butterfly net. A novella plot should fit in that, right? I mean, novellas never turn into novels overnight…

13 comments

  1. I think the first advice one of my mentors, fellow by the name of Dave Freer, is to know the end of the story, so you have something to aim at. Which works for me, even when I have a “better” idea, and change what I think will be the ending.

  2. Being a plotter is a pain. I have a dozen scenes and even know what order they go in, but the structure still isn’t there.

    1. But in my opinion, it’s better to figure that out when you’ve got five pages of notes rather than 20,000 words of i-don’t-know-what.

  3. What I was mentioning on the back porch:

    Plot in reverse. Write down the plot structure/outline of the story you’ve written so far. note your pacing, and how often you’ve touched on major plot-relevant things or people, and how many words since last POV / how many words you’re apportioning to each POV. And tone. You know all those lovely elaborate charts plotters can make? feel free to make them! You can’t hurt the story – this part is already done!

    Sometimes if I’m really stuck, I stop a chapter short of the end, because this is sometimes stuck from making wrong choice in last chapter. If the last chapter deviates significantly off story so far, undo, and start over (usually it’s a variance in tone, so changing the choice they make, or the reaction to something, unbreaks the character, unbreaks the chapter, and proceeding is easier.) If not, then go “Okay, I know plot-structure-wise I am *here*, so I need something like *this*, and I haven’t mentioned X in a while, and it’s past time for Y to be the POV.” Limitations can be helpful: instead of looking at the whole kitchen, you’re now presented with a set of ingredients, a theme, a tone, so your brain can cook up a new chapter.

    For those of us who write like we cook, i.e. “I have to use up this and this before they go bad, and I have too much of that. What can I make?”, this can really help.

  4. I feel for you, Cedar. The thing I just finished decided to be theme driven, which worked OK, except . . . there has to be antagonist in there somewhere! So I had to go back, sort out the Big Bad, make sure the antagonist was properly worked into the story, then re-write the ending three times to make sure it fit with the rest of the arc of the plot.

    The next major story (history-based fantasy in a place and time with almost no written history) has a setting, a rough time period, and a protagonist who says, “Trust me. I’ll find a plot for you.” *grits teeth* Not. Helping.

  5. David Drake usually swipes some bit of history as a loose framework for a bunch of cool incidents involving the same characters. Seems to have worked out okay for him.

  6. With a horse, this is usually a shy, when they spook and lose their adorable walnut brain at a stray leaf or stick that looks nothing like a snake.

    We laugh at this, but when leaves and sticks launch their evil plot to take over the world, the horses will all say, “We tried to warn you…”

    Hey, maybe that’s where your plots went. The leaves and sticks kidnapped them to add to their own plots.

  7. Knowing the end is good. In my case there will be a party, and everyone will be there (except the bad guy). This removes the temptation to kill characters off for plot points, motivation or ‘feelz’.

    But also bad, because how am I going to get these guys through this thing alive? I don’t know! Where’s the thing that’s going to make the Bad Guy quit? I can’t have The Nerd pull Handwavium out of his back pocket -every- time, that’s boring. So, like Cedar, I’ve been hunting through the thistle patch looking for the plot. (No rosebushes here, just thistles. We’re Scots.)

    At least I finally figured out who the bad guys are. That’s a plus. ~:D

  8. Yeah. I think I’ve managed to misplace an entire character at this point. Not yet entirely certain how to fix that. May need to pull out a large chunk of the current short and start over.

    Thing is I’ve got the ending. I’ve had it since January. I just can figure out how they actually got there that feels right.

    It’s probably to complicated for my current skill level, but I also don’t want to end the short story arc without it, because it’s really the final transition point for most of the characters involved.

    Oh well, the fanfic thing was intended as a learning exercise that if I break it, it’s a learning experience. 🙂

Comments are closed.