On Writing

When a Plot Changes as You Are Writing

October 5, 2013

Do I change my plot as I work on my first draft? Yes, I do.

I change my plot when a better idea suggests itself. The extraordinary thing about writing is that this seems to happen naturally as you move into the world of your story.

How do I square changing my plot with using my trusty plotting aids (the one-sheet, the two- or three-page synopsis, the beat sheet, and the outline that I’ve written about in various previous posts)?

Simple: as I tweak my plot, I handwrite the updates onto printed copies of my plotting aids – and later keystroke in the changes. I also will make a notation in the text of the first draft (if I’ve already printed a hard copy of a scene that may need to be changed). The notation will alert me to go back and change anything I’ve previously written that needs to be changed so that the scene will align with the new developments in the story flow. I don’t trust my memory – not when I’m dealing with a 400+ page manuscript.

What do my notations look like? They’re notes such as: “[Set this up earlier],” “[Transition here]”, or “[Amend scene – see beat sheet].”

With the changes to the plotting aids and any necessary notations jotted on what I have completed to date of the first draft, I can happily continue with completing the first draft.

Yes, I work out story logic with meticulous care. Why? for me, the first draft is when I fine-tune the story line and makes sure the story logic works. Sloppy logic in a story leaves readers puzzled and dissatisfied. The resolution is a let down. And to paraphrase what one bestselling author said about novels: It’s the ending of your latest novel that sells your next novel. A powerful ending results when an author weaves her story with care.

In short, a novel just won’t work if the story logic doesn’t make sense. (All right, there are exceptions: Raymond Chandler comes to mind.* That’s the subject for another blog post. In the meantime, if your goal – like mine – is to create a pageturner novel, a book readers find enthralling, then, aim for a first draft which is a model of tight story logic.)

Your second, third, etc. drafts can address all the other elements that go into creating the kind of story readers deserve to enjoy.

More on that in future posts.

* “Trying to decipher Chandler’s plots can be like trying to interpret Finnegans Wake. I have now read The Big Sleep three times, and I’m no closer to figuring out who killed who than I was before I started. ” – Allen Barra, The Case for Raymond Chandler.

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