19

I structured my plot, designed the path to the climax, listed my characters and even outlined some scenes. Then halfway through I got stuck: one minor transition scene just did not make sense. The characters in it couldn't possibly behave like I initially thought.

This was due to some nuances of the story that I developed while writing. I thought they would be harmless and rather adding some color. In hindsight, this scene was probably a weak link. To solve the impasse, I had to plan a different plot route at the last moment.

How could have I identified and managed weak scenes during planning? I don't mind spending extra time planning, but it breaks my flow to halt writing to re-plan one scene en route.

  • Great question. I don't think there is a "good" answer (that solves the problem) – if there is I'd be glad to know it. – wetcircuit Feb 17 at 23:53
7

I'm a discovery writer (no plan!) and I seldom have this problem. I would suggest actually writing less on the plan.

The issue, which discovery writing takes care of automatically, is that main characters tend to grow throughout the book. That is what happened to you, in your own "discovery" phase of writing (some scene) you embellished and created some personality traits.

That is a good thing, a natural thing, and readers find it entertaining to gradually discover character traits. But it is very difficult to plan out in an outline. Many plotters have the problem of their characters growing and then straining against the leash later in the story, they don't want to say and do what you planned for them to say and do. It is no longer in their organically developed character, and feels awkward, or cardboard, or forced, when the time comes to write it. That is what happened to you.

The way around it, if you feel like you must have a plot, is to skeletonize the plot. Do not put so much detail in it. Write only the turning points, things you can remember while actually writing the early parts. This will leave you the room you need to improvise new character points while writing, and to then improvise when you get to the scenes.

Examples:

1) The team decides they have to go to Chicago.

2) In Chicago, Mike hooks up with Alice. Consensual, but she regrets it. He knows it.

For (1) In your head, from the beginning, you know they have to decide to go to Chicago, but don't write in all the emotions or dialogue of WHY, leave the character arguments and motivations for when the time comes.

For (2), From page 1 you know Mike and Alice have to hook up; consensually. So you won't give either of them a trait that would sabotage that hook up or make it implausible. But wait to write the emotions and motivations until the time comes. At that time, you may also go back and insert incidents that foreshadow the event, or make it more plausible.

That is how I work as a discovery writer, there are big things I do know about the relationships but I intentionally develop the characters as we go along, by letting them do and say whatever comes into their head. Or to be more exact, they do, think and say what I think that character-so-far would most likely do, think or say in the developing situation.

So my recommendation is to write less in the outline, stick to the bare bones of plot turning points, and let your characters become people in your mind. There are many ways to decide you have to go to Chicago. Some characters may like the idea, others may hate it. Good, that creates conflict and tension.

There are many ways for Alice to have a disappointing sexual experience with Mike. That could be Mike's fault, or Alice's, or the environment or demands on their attention making it a rushed experience which did nothing for her.

You know when you are writing that is how it has to be to serve the plot, let the characters figure it out when you get there.

  • This is an interesting advice: to write less before it is truly needed, expand on the main plot points, and fill the rest later. If I understand your suggestion, the issue may not be in the planning, but in the actual writing phase.That's something I will definitively consider. – NofP Feb 19 at 15:55
  • @NofP That's a good summary; don't plot what is not truly needed. Perhaps notes of emotional or physical destinations, e.g. Alice is going to fall in love with Mike at the end of the second Act. So you (author) know she can't stay mad at him after their little fiasco; you need to fix their rift sooner or later; you can't escalate it very far. As a discovery writer, I always have some rough end of the book in mind, my compass points at that destination. Halfway to plotting, I'd suggest several intermediate destinations, so you can improv with chars while reaching each milestone. – Amadeus Feb 19 at 17:35
12
+50

The characters in it couldn't possibly behave like I initially thought.

This was due to some nuances of the story that I developed while writing.

I think this is a natural and positive aspect of the 2-step writing process.

The creative writer throws darts blindly and hopes most of them land on a target of unknown shape and size, making them "good ideas" – darts that hit the wall are "bad ideas".

Next comes the critical writer whose job is to take off the blindfold, see which darts have actually hit, and methodically fill-in the shape with handplaced darts and remove the bad ones. Voilà, the writer appears to be a champion dart-thrower. He put on a blind fold and – yada yada – look at all these darts that hit the target! Meanwhile there's a kuroku stagehand who is doing half the magic that we pretend isn't there.

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Discovery vs Plotting

Dean Wesley Smith claims he never re-writes, instead he re-drafts 3 times. He wrote books for existing movie franchises and also happens to be at least 2 people, so take his advice with a grain of salt, however he has the advantage of knowing exactly where he is in the writing process. Most discovery writers lean in this direction with long periods of uninterrupted creative flow.

Plotters alternate between creative and critical writing all through the process: short bursts of idea generation followed by editing – plotters don't re-write so much as fill in an outline with more and more granular detail. At some point they have to stop and that's when the novel is finished.

These are 2 ends of a spectrum. In reality we fall somewhere in-between: discovery writers make critical revisions as they go, and even chronic plotters have a final flow-only pass where new content is not permitted.

You outlined the important things but as you say this was a minor transition. I don't see any path around this. It could be any detail, any plot element, any out-of-character moment that was small enough to be missed during your outline/plotting/1st draft phase – regardless of your personal writing style. At some point the writer transitions from creative idea generation to critical (re)writing. I don't see how you could anticipate every issue during the first step, but you came to it eventually in step 2.

The frustration is that you need to shift to creative mode again to generate new ideas. The alternatives are to adamantly follow your outline, skip this part for now and come back to it later, or ignore it with confidence and hope the reader doesn't notice.

  • 2
    happens to be at least 2 people? – Thomo Feb 18 at 2:08
  • According to the About page on his website. He also apparently publishes a novel every month according to the same page. – wetcircuit Feb 18 at 3:33
  • I must admit I've not read anything of his, but from the information provided on his site, I would hazard the guess that he's got a very specific formula that he writes to. It's obviously successful, and works for him, but the sheer amount that he 'publishes' each month would indicate he has a template that he follows. – Thomo Feb 18 at 3:55
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    Agree. I don't think he is really going through a "creative" phase in the same way that the OP (or most of us) are. Characters and worldbuilding is established from other writers (TV movies), and he must have a formula for story and characters.... I'm not trying to trash him but he's such an extreme end of "just sit and write and never edit", and he was the only author I found that claimed to have a 1-step writing process (which is actually a 3-draft process)…. – wetcircuit Feb 18 at 13:37
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    Love the kuroku example! I feel that yours and Amadeus answers are quite complementary and suggest a very similar approach: write without worrying (probably write less as well, unless needed), evaluate adjust and fill the gaps. Not to do too great of an injustice to mark one as the answer, I think both answers deserve a bounty. – NofP Feb 19 at 16:04
3

I structured my plot, designed the path to the climax, listed my characters and even outlined some scenes. Then halfway through I got stuck: one minor transition scene just did not make sense. The characters in it couldn't possibly behave like I initially thought.

This was due to some nuances of the story that I developed while writing. I thought they would be harmless and rather adding some color. In hindsight, this scene was probably a weak link. To solve the impasse, I had to plan a different plot route at the last moment.

This is completely normal. A story outline is an overview of what the whole story is supposed to look like. It is like a rough draft of the story. It is like lying. When you are lying to someone or covering up a secret, you have to make up a story out of nowhere, despite the contrary evidence. In fiction, people are willing to believe you, if you can somehow twist the events to make it sound like something can happen. The audience's disbelief is temporarily suspended in order to believe your story. Plot holes break that suspension of disbelief, and the more plot holes a story has, the less credibility. So, writing fiction is a lot like crafting a very convincing lie. Convincing lies need to be planned. You cannot make up convincing lies on the spot. You have to carefully think it out, identify all the holes, fill all the holes, and convince the audience that the story is "true".

How could have I identified and managed weak scenes during planning? I don't mind spending extra time planning, but it breaks my flow to halt writing to re-plan one scene en route.

What's the rush? Writing fictional stories is part of living the life of a "starving artist". The pursuit in itself does not bring you any money. If you choose to publish the work, then the amount of royalties you earn is not sustainable. You need to have a day job, while writing on the side. Your day job feeds you; writing fiction typically does not. If you are one of those people who are writing on the side instead of being the sole source of income, then there really is no rush to the writing process.

It is possible to outline your story first, memorize the gist of the story in your heart, and orally tell the story to a family member or friend. If you manage to entertain your audience with the story, then you are probably doing a good job. If your audience is asking you about why this character is doing this for no apparent reason or why other characters behave that way to your protagonist, then you have a problem. Then, you have to revisit the storyline and change it to make sense. The ultimate goal is to make a coherent story that you know in the bottom of your heart. Good liars are people who believe their own lies. If you believe in your lies temporarily and can get other people to believe in the lies temporarily, then you are a good storyteller.

  • To answer your question: I have a really good memory, which helps me in the planning phase throughout many different moment of the day. I sometimes do that while walking, standing in line, or brushing my teeth. Writing instead requires that I sit down and write. I only have a few dedicated moments for that, and to interrupt the writing flow feels like taking the food from the starving. Even worse so when the interruption is due to my planning mistake. – NofP Feb 19 at 15:50
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I have to ask, "What is the big deal with the interruption?" In other words, what activity are you optimizing? In still other words, how much planning are you willing to do to do to avoid the interruption?

I am a planner, perhaps to an extreme, but I too get surprised when I draft the story. You could lay out the individual beats of each scene, meditate long hours, and try to sort out any problems that you detect. It would most likely be faster to just write the draft and accept the fact that you will have to go back and fix things, later.

If you are truly worried about maintaining a writing flow, the word "later" is your friend. Just write and let the chips fall where they may. Then come back and revise to fix the problems.

2

You identified the weak link as character motivation. In the snowflake method you write the outline for every character, and that can help identify weak scenes. But I suspect you didn't understand the characters well enough when you hadn't written them. Which maybe points to doing a character study before you start writing. I've been looking for good advice on that myself. I've heard of interview methods and character sheets, but for me only writing out a few bad chapters as I explore who these people are works.

For you, it sounds like this is the next step. Figure out your characters early, then look at each scene as if you were writing the story about that character. If motivations are in tact and the scene is still interesting, then it may just be a personal motivation issue if you can't write to the plan. It's still not a problem to rewrite. The joy of an outline is that you rewrite early instead of late. So hopefully less hours in revision on a huge work, but it didn't remove the process; it moved it.

  • +1 for the advice of writing down a few "bad" or "test" chapters to better figure out the characters. – NofP Feb 19 at 15:40
1

Understanding your characters is definitely important. I know that there are some authors who take specific events from main characters' lives -the types of events that shape who they are as people- and write a short blurb of that event. This not only helps them find the characters' voice, but it also allows them to become better acquainted with who the character is.

Once you write these blurbs, when you are thinking about your story while standing in line or driving you can use the knowledge you gained from the blurbs to walk the characters through the plot as you currently understand it. If you hit on something that the character just wouldn't do, you are more likely to notice it. That is the benefit of knowing someone so well. You know if it would take a very specific set of events to get them to do what you think is necessary, or it could force you to use your resourceful skill to find another way.

Like most things in life there is still a small possibility that your flow will be broken by something else, but knowing your story elements intimately will help greatly.

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