Friday, July 13, 2012

Help! My plot has come unstuck


 It's 200 years into the future. Fortune SweetSong looks out at this view and... 

And I stopped writing because I realised my plot was in trouble.

I commenced this writing year really well by starting a new science-fiction novel in Steven Carroll’s master class at Writers Victoria. I wrote every day for the first four months. It was great. But here I am, six months after that wonderful beginning, and my plot seems to have come unstuck.

The story that I thought I’d plotted out – so carefully, so confidently – doesn’t seemed to be as well conceived as I’d imagined. The ending doesn’t fit the cast of characters. Specifically, the ending would be very satisfying if you cared about one particular character. The problem is, that character is dead and even before he died he wasn't very interesting.

I could, should and will replot. The problem isn’t insurmountable but it has stopped me in my tracks and I have begun to wonder about my plotting method. Having written 12 teen romances that were driven by a combination of plot and an assumed adolescent voice, I felt I knew how to devise a novel plan.

The method I’ve always used involves an arc that relates to the genre, a story arc for the main character or characters and a chapter-by-chapter plan in which something interesting happens. In terms of writing teen romance a plan could look something like this:
1 Genre arc: The female protagonist ditches her existing boyfriend for someone more interesting.
2 Story arc for the main character: The female protagonist intends to become a jockey but ends up becoming a horse trainer.
3 Chapter action:
Chapter 1: Our hero goes to the sale yards to try and meet a famous trainer but ends up buying a horse to save it from the slaughter yards. She has a fight with her boyfriend.
Chapter 2: Our hero finds a farmer willing to agist her new horse and in return agrees to help with some fencing. There is a farm accident and our hero has to go to the neighbour for help. She meets the neighbour’s son…

SPOILER ALERT: this next example includes some plot outcomes from The Light Heart of Stone. You can skip to the following paragraph if you’ve yet to read the novel.

In terms of The Light Heart of Stone, my recent epic fantasy novel, the plan looked something like this:
1 Genre arc: The agricultural system in an alternate world is failing and the world needs to be saved.
2 Story arc for main character #1: A young girl named Fox loses her home and family and ends up dismantling the system that caused her that loss.
3 Story arc for main character #2: An old woman named Oria is given a second chance at life but finds that she must become a different person if she is to survive.
4 Chapters:
Chapter 1: Oria finds a perfectly preserved body in a coffin, touches it and loses consciousness.
Chapter 2: Fox is tested for talent and taken from her family…

SPOILER ALERT ENDS. You can continue reading safely.

When I realised the proposed ending for my new science-fiction novel no longer seemed to fit the story, I thought I could solve the problem by reading the book as though I was the reader rather than the writer. I thought I’d know what the ending should be by the time I reached the end of the 48,000 words I’d already written.

I read chapter 1 and everything felt dandy. Chapter 2 had some good material but soon I was in despair because my pages weren’t sticky. Stephen Wright talks about his eyes sliding over a page ‘without getting any adhesion’ and calls those bits of weak writing ‘white-outs’. All I could see in my manuscript were white-outs.

As my despair deepened I began to have second thoughts about key events in the story – never mind the ending!

I’ve had a few public speaking engagements over the last 10 days so I haven’t been able to write. I did a radio interview at Inner FM with Marie Ryan. I did an author talk at Collins Booksellers in Bacchus Marsh. I sat on a panel about creating fictional worlds at the Bayside Literary Festival and I sat on a panel about public art for the City of Darebin’s DIY Arts Seminar Series.

In a way I’m glad that I couldn’t get to my writing. I think I would have sunk deeper into despair if I’d had time to write. During the break I had these thoughts:

Well, white-outs are always going to be present in first drafts, particularly when your plot is unresolved and you haven’t finished drawing your characters – and both of those are true in my case.

A plot crisis? Big deal. It just means I need to rethink and re-plan.

How fortuitous that Pete Aldin told me about that new writing software. I can download the free trial, transfer my existing plot and text and – in the process – work out what’s wrong and how to fix it.


I'll let you know about the writing software if it ends up being useful.

Review News

I can't let this post go past without mentioning that The Light Heart of Stone has just received its first review. Sean Wright, who writes reviews, news and views on speculative fiction at Adventures of a Bookonaut, has said some very exciting things about the book.

2 comments:

  1. Although you're an accomplished author and coming from a different place to me, this is exactly the problem I've had with the first three novels I've attempted. The first novel took 4 damn years to write!! The second 2 years (that one's under submission now). This current one I started three years ago.
    I don't know if the problem is just a first draft issue or not. But I'm planning a 4th novel while I redraft my third (plot problems hopefully fixed) and I'm committing not to start writing the first draft (or #4) until the outline is fully given the nod by several writing buddies. Once that's there, I'll give it a go and hopefully save myself a year in the wilderness.
    Will be fascinated to see how you resolve this, Tor.

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  2. Oh, writing can be such a gruelling unkind uncompromising process! You have to wonder... but don't lose heart, or if you do, just temporarily as the world rights itself on its axis.
    Tell me more about this software you speak of?

    ReplyDelete