Monday, August 19, 2013

Is There a Knot in Your Plot?

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Have you been there?

Everything is going along fine and BANG - you've entered the land of a 'tangled mess', walking through a perpetual fog of obscurity and your entire story grinds to a slow and somewhat agonizing stop?

I've been there. More times than I care to count and in an attempt to help other weary travelers along the tangled path I have five things for us to consider if we've come upon a few Knots in our Plots.

Of course the perfect plots hold fabulous elements of twists and turns, taking us in directions as readers, we didn't expect to go - but a knot? A tangled web of indecision or confusion? NOT what we're looking for as writers OR readers.

So what can we do to un-braid the painful bunch?

1. Know Thy Characters - Lots of times our story crashes to a stop when we haven't really gotten to know our characters. It's difficult to dig deep in a novel if we've not taken the time to 'get in the heads' of our main characters. What do they want? What drives them? What would hurt them most? What do they need the most? My Book Therapy is great at digging deeper in character development to sort out the Lie your character believes, the Wound they've had in their past, and the desperate Truth he/she must discover by story's end.

I always start with a clear idea of my main characters internal conflict and motivation, as well as their external conflict and motivation, then I start digging deeper (asking the 'why' question)

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When we know our characters, their stories begin to untangle our knotted plots with their own unique story-lines and personal desires to propel us forward.

2. Don't forget the Dynamic Duo - Holy Plot Lines, Batman! It takes TWO??? Yep, whether you're a character-driven novel writer or a plot-driven novel writer, it's difficult to write a good novel without both! It's fine to have a stronger element, either character or plot, but if you've not given enough attention to one or the other, your story may come to a strange, obscure place - like two pieces not fitting in a puzzle. Maybe do some super-sleuthing and figure out if you need to beef up a weak hero or strengthen up a few plot points to turn dastardly into dynamic :-)

3. Take a Mountain view instead of a Tree Climb - Sometimes we just need to step back and get a big-picture view of our story to figure out why we're stuck. It's easy to get lost in the trees, sorting through a wild conglomeration of story-stew. Perhaps you just need a mountain-top experience to bring your full story back into view. What's the purpose of your story? What does your heroine want? Why does she need it so badly? Stepping back can give us the view of our dark and murky forest and help us see the detour around the knotted path.

4. U-turn OFF of Easy Street - Yeah, who doesn't want to join with Annie's crazy villain and dance on 'easy street'? However, easy street does NOT a story make. Easy plotline = bored reader. If you've come to a frustrating stop in your novel maybe you should do a quick complexity check for 3 important aspects to steer you into inspiration alley.
a. How complex are your main characters?
b. Do you have some interesting and supportive secondary characters?
c. How are you story-enhancing subplots driving your novel?

5. Hurt somebody - The secret weapon of fiction writing is CONFLICT! Oh yes! Mary Connealy once said that if you get stuck in a story, shoot somebody. Okay, so not everyone writes 'those' sorts of stories, but figuratively it works too. If you've reached a point of inertia, MOVE something! Add conflict. Throw in a twist. See what happens. Why did the story of a poor girl-turning-to-a-princess work for Cinderella? Evil stepmother - conflict. And just when you think everything is going to work out swimmingly, throw in a nasty cat named Lucifer (aptly named, btw) and you have MORE conflict.

There are lots of other ways to get out of sticky situation, so let's hear from you. Are you stuck? Have you been stuck? Did you figure a way out of the knot? Share your strategy with us!

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 Pepper Basham writes Blue Ridge romance peppered with grace and humor. She's a mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and lover of chocolate. When she's not aggravating the wonderful AlleyCats, you can visit her at her personal blog, Words Seasoned With Salt. She's represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency.

7 comments:

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Awesome post today, Pep!! Great problem solving tips here! :)

Melissa Tagg said...

I LOVE this, Pepper. Such good tips. Over the weekend I worked on edits to my second book...I had to do quite a few of the things you mentioned here...especially stepping back and looking at the big picture and then u-turning off easy street. :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, I could SWEAR you were here at my house on Friday. I've dubbed it my Black Moment Day because I realized I couldn't write even one more word on my story until I got some things figured out. I brainstormed with the amazing Beth Vogt, cried a little (okay, cried a lot) and then asked myself some questions. Taking some of Beth's ideas, I spent time in prayer and journaling. God renewed my perspective and showed me steps to get out of the snarled tangle I was in.

I've taken time to revamp my hero and am writing a synopsis of my story, something I should have done before I started writing. Then, I could have probably seen this knot coming and untangled it sooner. Sigh.

But, I'm excited to get back into my story again with a clearer direction of where to go from here.

You've given great tips here. I'm definitely coming back to review them.

Oh, and sorry this is so long. :)

Lisa A. said...

Great post! I struggle with the character-and-plot driven balance in one of my books. You worded this very succinctly and I think it's going to stick in my head. So thank you so much.

Pepper said...

Sorry for the late reply. Been having some wonky time with blogger lately! Bleh.

Thanks, Ames. It was fun to write!

Pepper said...

Melissa,
Oh my, I totally get the 'easy street' thing and getting lost in the trees. So glad you liked the post.

Pepper said...

Jeanne,
So glad you made it through.
I have spies everywhere :-)