Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Guest Poster Melissa Tagg: Do the Work!

I’ll never forget when Robbie showed up at the door.

Completely unexpected. Kinda bad timing. But oh, just the perfect moment…

Robbie’s pretend, by the way. :) And it wasn’t my door he showed up at, but Miranda’s—the heroine in my debut novel, Made to Last. And it wasn’t a perfect moment for her.

But for me as the author…oh yes. It was a delicious plot twist that took me totally by surprise. Non-writers don’t get it—how characters can go and do something we didn’t see coming. But writers know—it happens!

You’re trotting along in a scene and all of a sudden someone blurts out a line you didn’t plan or something happens plot-wise to surprise you.

It’s a little magical.

And, sometimes, a lot frustrating. As was the case when Robbie showed up.

Don’t get me wrong, at first I loved it. I remember getting giddy thinking about how fabulously that scene came together with Robbie’s sudden and unexpected appearance at the end. But an hour or maybe two later, it hit me: this little twist translated into a lot of work on my part.

See, Robbie wasn’t supposed to show up for a couple more chapters. I had it all planned out in what felt like the perfect timeline.

But noooo…he decides to show up several chapters early and throw off all my plans.  Suddenly my neat little plot spreadsheet didn’t work so well anymore. (If you need to pause here and gasp at the thought of me, Melissa Tagg, hater of Excel, willingly creating a spreadsheet, that’s okay)

And I remember thinking to myself: Well, I could nix Robbie’s appearance, go back to what I planned originally. But deep down, I knew that’d be a mistake. And I knew the only reason I was even considering it was because I was scared of the extra work it meant to the rest of the story.

But here’s what I learned once I decided to hunker down and do the work: It’s worth it.

It’s worth ripping out and tearing up scenes to get to the good stuff.

It’s worth hitting the “delete” key or slaving over necessary new words.

It’s worth messing with what once felt like a perfect storyline to get to an even better plot.

It’s worth digging through what we’ve got with a loose grip, open mind and crazy levels of determination to hit that story sweet spot.

Our stories are better for it when we refuse to be rushed, lazy or impatient during the revision process. Our plots are richer and our characters deeper when we battle through edits, surpassing better and reaching for best. When we stand up to the hard work, take a cue from Nike and just do it.

Even when it means a twist that goes against our plot chart or a scene we never planned on but that we know belongs.

And you know, if we want to veer off into the spiritual for a moment, there’s probably a pretty good life lesson here. God throws us plot twists now and then, doesn’t he? Fiddles with—or maybe sometimes even wrecks—our perfectly plotted lives.

And yet…isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth following the twists and peeking around the divine bends, doing the work of trust and obedience even when it’s uncomfortable…or just simply not part of our plan?

I think it is.

Definitely not easy.

But definitely worth it.

Have you ever been surprised by a plot twist that required lots of changes or rewrites to your story? Ever had a crazy life twist that changed your plans? 

Melissa Tagg is a former newspaper reporter and total Iowa girl. Her first novel, Made to Last, releases from Bethany House in September 2013. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, Melissa is also the marketing/events coordinator for My BookTherapy. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at www.melissatagg.com.


Beth K. Vogt said...

So many ways to respond to this post, Melissa.
The simplest answer is: Yes.
Fictional plot twists: Yes.
Real life plot twists: Yes.
And both take work.
Both are messy.
Both ... change me.
And make me rely on God more. Me less.
Good stuff, that.

Loved this post -- and, as I've said before: I cannot wait for your debut novel! But, I will.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love!! Yes to the plot twists in both life and fiction.

Characters do the most unpredictable things sometimes, don't they? I guess that's good - that's when you know the story you've created has taken on a life of its own.

Rebellious characters are a lot like teenagers really, except if they get really unruly, we can always kill them off. Just for fun. Mwuhaha. ;)

Pepper said...

fictional and nonfictional plot twists? You betcha! Some of them have been DOOZIES!!!!
Are they worth it? (as I cringe) Yes, they are.
Easy? NO WAY

I had a brand new character literally run right in front of my heroine's car in one book. I thought "Who are you and what on earth are you doing to my story?"

Another came from a deeper plot thread that my story needed, but then required some massive rewrites.

(then there are those sneaky TITLE switches in plan ;-)

And God's plot changes? Living through a few right now, and incredibly thankful that as much as I love to watch great things happen to my characters, HE loves me infinitely more and revels in bringing joy to His kids.

Thanks for this awesome post, Melissa and CAN. NOT. WAIT! Until September's release. WOOHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

Hi Melissa, it is exciting when characters do the unexpected, and yes, when a new direction for the plot presents itself, it is worth following. I've got hundreds of story pages I'll never use from throwing out old ideas for new ones. :-)

Rajdeep Paulus-Writer of Young Adult Fiction said...

Ooooh. Robbie seems like trouble. I like trouble! ha.

Hey Melissa!

Totally thought of the time we came to New York, kicking and screaming. Then, *true story* while out moving truck is still fully packed, Hubby's medical school rings to tell him he can have a spot in a Chicago hospital. We were this *holding two fingers an inch apart* close to jumping in the truck and driving to Chicago. We love Chicago. Home was calling and we had no reason to say no. But… we stayed. Made no sense at the time. New York was where hub's car got stolen as a teen. Bulls' fans don't quite fit in here. But something inside said, "Stay. It'll be a new adventure. Not easy. But new. This is the beginning of a new chapter. You're supposed to stay." And it's been more than an adventure!!

Fictionally speaking… yes. Totally relate. Speaking of… off to write the third take on the sequel that's calling my name. Write me!!

Happy Wednesday. It's raining in my neck of the woods. Perfect writing weather. What else can you do on a rainy day, after all. :)

Alena T. said...

I agree with all of the above.
Life changes - totally NOT easy. After whining, crying and more whining -- totally worth it.

I'm counting down for your debut novel!

Lindsay Harrel said...

Totally and completely relate! I had to completely rewrite Act 3 of my last novel...and it's so much better now. And I've experienced that panic in real life too. But God knows best, right? ;)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Melissa, LOVE this. And, as has been said, I can't wait to read your novel!!!!

I had a significant twist appear in my story last week, and my mind is thinking through the required changes to the rest of my story. I'm excited, because it's so much more organic than what I'd planned before I began writing.

If only it was so easy to work through some life twists. . . I've definitely had life twists, most difficult to walk through. But, God brought depth and a greater understanding of who He is and of His amazing love for me through those twists.

Wonderful post!

Heidi Blankenship said...

Wonderful post, Melissa. I like how you connected the fictional plot twists with the real life ones ordained by our Creator.

Unknown said...

@Beth: "Both are messy." Yep, for real. But I love that God routinely makes awesome stuff out of messes. :) And thanks for being excited for MTL. I'm pretty darn excited myself. I can't believe it's so close!

@Karen: LOL my problem is that I write rom-com, so suddenly killing off characters doesn't tend to go over so well. Haha! Oh, also, I just feel like I should say something about dentistry here... :)

@Pepper: Oh Pepper, I'm hanging my head in shame over the title thievery! Even if it was unintentional...bad, bad Melissa! :) Love what you said about God loving us and bringing joy into our lives.

Unknown said...

Okay, it took me three tries to get the captcha right in my last comment. Apparently I need a better contact prescription!!

@Gwendolyn: You know what I love about those hundreds of unused pages, though? They so often lead to fodder for future stories, it seems!

@Raj: Waving back at ya! I love your Chicago/New York story. I'm in a little bit of "I don't know why I'm doing this, God, but it seems like the right thing" situation right now--something I'm saying no to (buying a house) when it seems like it'd be so easy to say yes to (makes more financial sense, nicer place to live, etc etc). I can't explain it but I feel like God is telling me not to. Maybe it's part of my own little life plot twist...but your story of going against what seems logical to listen to God's voice inspires me!

@Alena: I love that you mention the crying and whining part. Because as much as my post may make it sound like I maturely handle both fiction and nonfiction plot twists, rarely do I do so without a little "But whhhyyy?" whining first. Haha!

Unknown said...

OOH that second time I got the captcha right on the first try!

@Lindsay: Yup, God knows best. Such a good mantra to live by...in addition to our other mantra...which I'm having to repeat by the minute today. Haha!

@Jeanne: YAY for your new plot twist. And I so agree...when we walk through our real life plot twists, our understanding of who He is and how much He loves us definitely does deepen.

@Heidi: Thanks! I think so much of the writing life connects to our spiritual life. :)

Michelle said...

Amazing Post, Melissa!

I have so been there! Sometimes God turns life upside down and plots sideways to bring out the amazing. The trick is to sit back and trust...I'm still working on that.

Rachel Hauck said...

Great post, MTagg! Yes, I've had those unexpected twists and they are fun.

Best one was in Softly and Tenderly when Rebel revealed a secret that changed the sub plot reveal.

Fun stuff! Can't wait for your book, Melissa!


Unknown said...

@Michelle: Thanks a bunch, Michelle. You're so right, but why does that sitting back and trusting thing have to be so hard sometimes?? :)

@Rachel: Oh man, I loved Softly & Tenderly. I'm pretty sure that's due for a re-read.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Melissa. Sorry it took me so long to get over here today. Yes, definitely over the last year my husband has had a diagnosis of a blood disorder that has changed our lives in small ways. Little things like being unable to wrestle with kids...but they make us appreciative. I have been through lots of life twists...story twists, too. Like cutting out 15,000 words out of my first MS.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

LOL, Melissa, if we can make dental steampunk a genre, homicidal rom-com should be no sweat... ;)

Ashley Clark said...

This is such a great post, Melissa! I've had so many moments where my characters just decided to do something all on their own (and this used to happen to me in academic papers also, by the way!)-- it's a hard moment of excitement as well as groaning when you realize how much work it will mean. But you are so right-- always worth it in the end! Thanks for guest posting today! :) Excited for your book release!

Unknown said...

@Julia: Oh my, 15,000 words? I like cutting words--there's something satisfying about the process. But 15,000? That would be intimidating.

@Karen: You're so right. Maybe I should check with Bethany House to see if they'd be cool with me branching into darker rom-coms. Haha!

@Ashley: Oh man, I just LOVE those moments--when characters go maverick in a good way. But yeah, there's groaning even in the excitement of it. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Melissa! I have this happen to me all the time...that's why I kinda breeze through the plotting process because I know it's never going to stay that way (and I am truly a pantster)!
I love this:
"Our stories are better for it when we refuse to be rushed, lazy or impatient during the revision process. Our plots are richer and our characters deeper when we battle through edits, surpassing better and reaching for best." Good stuff!

Unknown said...

Haha, I'm a total plotter, Angie, so I love to spend daaaays pouring over a plot...but then it ALWAYS changes. Probably I should become a pantser just to save myself the agony. LOL!