I’ve had plot on the brain for awhile now, and Thomma’s recent post on the subject has given me food for thought.
I usually outline my novels. Not grand, detailed outlines that serve as straightjackets, but guidelines. It's like giving my characters a map and saying, “Here’s where you should end up, and here are some places I recommend you stop along the way.” Then I sit back and let them figure out their own journey, only stepping in if they look like they’re getting too far off track. A stop in Denver while on the way from New York to Los Angeles is fine. But a sudden whim to see Quebec is suspect.
You get the idea.
Unfortunately, the story I’ve been working on for the past year (has it been that long???) has given me fits due to the way I jumped into it without much of a plan. What’s worse, I wasn’t even entirely clear what the story was about. Was it a revenge story? Was it romance? Was it anti-romance? The theme changed several times, and the unsurprising result was a tale that didn’t seem to know what it was supposed to tell. I had two major plot arcs, and they didn’t compliment each other, making for no clear overarching theme.
I put the first draft aside and spent five months on the Diana’s Diary project, hoping that if I better understood what happened to my favorite character after the action of my meandering WIP, I could go back with a clearer head and clean it up.
No such luck.
What to do? Clearly I needed to pick a plot and stick with it. But plotting has always been my nemesis. I can ramble cheerfully along for page after page, developing characters that never do much of anything.
So I read Thomma’s post, and it just so happened that I had read something elsewhere (maybe on Absolute Write) that had me thinking along the same lines. Since plot was already taking up a lot of space in my head, I forced myself to really confront the issue this weekend. And much to my surprise, the problem wasn’t plot at all. The reason I couldn’t develop a coherent plot was because I lacked a coherent. . .
Yep. That was it. I couldn’t make up my mind what the story was about, so of course I couldn’t decide how to accomplish it. Duh.
So I think I see a way clear to cleaning this story up. This isn't the novel I thought it was, but I think I secretly knew that all along.
The timing of this revelation is perfect, since I’m going out of town in a couple of weeks. I’ve found that I don’t get much new writing done while on vacation, but I like to edit and tinker.
I'm excited about this new development in my writing. It feels good to know what the heck I'm doing!