Monday, February 8, 2010

The Elusive Plot

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I tend to wing it when it comes to my storylines-- in other words, I'm a pantster.  I thoroughly enjoy the freedom it allows, and my characters always surprise me, often taking the plot where I would not have thought to go.  There have been rare occasions when I've tried to work with an outline, however my characters have a tendency to misbehave and it usually results in a deviation from my original plans.

And yet, there are times when I just cannot figure out where my story is going.  Sometimes it's because I've taken a wrong turn.  These are the easy issues to correct-- I backtrack to that fork in the road, and go a different way.  However there are times when I feel like I don't have a very good grip on my plot and it goes beyond taking a wrong turn.  These are the times when I find myself rewriting and tweaking the first hundred pages of my manuscript several times, hoping I'll find that magical combination. 

But no matter how bleak things may look at times, I always try and write through it.  There is no other option for me.  Not writing won't change the problems with my story, so I might as well get on with it and deal with the matter at hand.

Here are a couple of things I like to try to help me find my way.  Maybe they can help you too.

*  First determine if it's something as simple as "The Wrong Turn".  If you think that's the case, determine where your story veered off the right path, and simply back the story up to that point.  You may have to delete a fair amount of pages, but it'll be well worth it.

*  Brainstorm some ideas with loose outlines.  I find this helps solidify my thoughts and the plot.  Even if I follow a vague outline for a short while, I can always let the story go where it wants afterwards, once it's picked up a bit of speed.

*  Raise the stakes.  And then raise them again.  What does your protagonist have to lose if she/he fails? What if their failure will affect far more than just their life?  By raising the stakes, we raise the tension, and the tension can help strengthen the plot.

*  Make your protagonist's life miserable.  If something can go wrong, it should.  Pile on the hurt, and when you think they couldn't possibly take anymore, pile on some more.  However, in between all the misery I like to sprinkle moments of hapiness, which only adds to what could be lost when it all goes wrong.

*  And when all else fails, a dead body always helps to move things along.  *mwa ha ha*  I'd like to say I'm kidding, but really, dead bodies do wonders for raising the stakes, the misery and the tension.  Granted, not every storyline can carry off a dead body, but you'd be surprised.

The very last thing to keep in mind is once you're done, there is always the editing phase where you can tweak your story, strengthen your plotlines and rein in those loose threads.  So, what about you?  Any tips for finding that elusive plot?