plot planning

3 Secret Weapons for When Your Plot Hates You

Writing LUNAV took me about three years, give or take: that time frame includes at least five full rewrites. 

Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY -- which is literally a fourth the length of LUNAV -- took me a full year, most of which was time during which it just sat, partially done, in my notebook, antagonizing me.

The plot for LOST BOY, FOUND BOY hated my guts. Hardcore.

With LUNAV, I wrote chaotically. I wrote scene after disconnected scene, and then -- hence all the rewriting -- figured out what shape my plot wanted to take and wove them together.

With LOST BOY, scenes wouldn't come to me. I knew where I wanted to go, plotwise. I knew the elements I wanted to include. I knew what Peter's main emotional journey was going to be, I knew the subplots. I knew how the lesbians were going to fall in love. I knew everything about the damn thing.

Except I couldn't, for the life of me, write it.

Because the plot hated my guts.

But I had secret weapons. Granted, it took me a year to figure them out, but when I did? 

Score one for Jenn, score zero for that pesky plot.

What were my secret weapons, you might ask? Read on, dear reader. Read on.

1. Call a Truce (aka, take a break)

As writers, we often feel like we've failed when we take a break from our characters, our worlds. We feel like we're letting someone -- or the entire world -- down. We feel like not writing means we're not worth it as people.

But you are -- we are -- worth it, even when we're not writing, I promise.

Given that we often feel those things, though, it's tempting -- and I tried to do this so many times -- to say "oh look, I gave it a break: I didn't think about or look at my draft all weekend." And good try, but... no.

Gotta be longer than that. 

To really cleanse our minds, we've gotta turn to different projects: and sometimes, those projects are best not being writing at all. For me, it's the gym (it's always the gym, for me). It's also fan fiction (lots and lots of fan fiction).

I put LOST BOY down for, oh... eight months? I had no choice. I kept trying to force it, and the more I tried, the worse it got. 

I only came back to it when...

2. Talk it Out (with a reader, not a writer)

For me, a friend who's not a writer was actually most helpful. That's not a knock on my wonderful writer friends! It's just... the friend who isn't a writer listened to me moaning about LOST BOY, and the fix was pretty immediate.

She tilted her head and pursed her lips and said the most obvious thing in the world: obvious to her as a potential reader, not as a fellow writer empathizing with my pain about pacing and point of view and other such plot agonies.

As a potential reader, she shrugged her shoulders and made a passing statement that not only transformed and clarified how I was thinking about the project, but that also renewed my passion to dive back into a project that had been causing me so much emotional grief.

Suddenly, the project was new again; suddenly, I liked it again. Don't underestimate the power of liking what you're working on. It's so important, every time.

And, for those of you who're wondering: all she said was, "okay, so Tink is the computer." And... it all went from there.

3. Set a Liveline (get it?)

A liveline for yourself, you know... a deadline, except without... death.

Seriously, though: for me, telling my editor (or someone else to whom you feel accountable) that I was working on this project and could send it to him by xx date really lit a fire under me. And, because I'd set the date myself, it was something that I felt in control of, something that I was excited for. 

Saying to myself, "okay, you've marinated on this project for almost a year now; you've had a truly transformative conversation about it (in addition to a lot of non-transformative conversations about it!), and now you're excited about it again. Great! So... finish it by this date."

For me, it was invigorating and exactly what I needed.

You might notice that very little of this was about the plot itself. And that's intentional. So much of writing is in our own minds, in our own senses of self-worth; in our own feelings. Yes, it's a craft, and there are lots of craft-oriented strategies -- storyboarding comes to mind, as I've written about on here before -- but there's something about addressing our emotions as writers that, to me, is extremely helpful in the actual writing process. 

What about you? How do you get through when your plot hates you?

How Do I Plot? Storyboarding and Collaborative Plotting of Plots

Over on my tumblr, a wonderful Anon got right to the point and asked: "how to develop stable plots." And this is what I said.


Ahhh, a great and difficult question!! I’m gonna give you a novel-length answer. Hope that’s okay!

Stable plots come about in different ways for different people. Some people like to plot every last detail out in an outline or on a visual storyboard before they even start writing. Those wonderful people are way out of my league: storyboards only happen way later for me.

For me, I honestly write novels in a series of scattered scenes; the overarching plot might have a vague idea in my mind by the way I start connecting these scenes, but ultimately, my biggest lift when novel-writing is about somehow weaving all these scattered scenes together.

This involves plugging in transition and connective scenes, and then doing a huge edit that, in truth, is more of a total rewrite. That way, I can smooth out the writing style and pacing, as well as making sure I’m not repeating information or such from the stitched-together scenes.

How did I do this with my debut novel LUNAV? I wish I still had the pictures from my old phone, but alas.

I storyboarded! I got index cards and colored markers, tape and my living room wall (my fiancee was delightful about letting me do this; she even encouraged it and was central to helping me figure it all out!).

What did I do with said markers and index cards? Stable plotting! (And I think this storyboarding can work even for those of us who outline before we write, too, by the way.)

Basically, I made an index card describing each scene briefly and posted them to the wall in chronological order.

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show  Once Upon a Time.  Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

A wooden door drawn in a storybook starts to emit a golden glow from its handle, projecting out of the book and over Henry's shoulder. The teenage boy wearing a black coat and signature red-striped scarf, turns to watch the stream of light touch a keyhole on a wooden desk drawer behind him. From the ABC show Once Upon a Time. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Underneath each scene, I posted three index cards. On these cards, I used different color markers to indicate important things about the scene: the color codes were “world-building”, “character development”, and something like “relationships.” For each category, I wrote about what the scene conveyed.

For world-building, I wrote things like “Lunamez massacre discussed” or “Dreaming explained.”

For characters, I wrote things like “Jax backstory” or “Sadie passes as a boy in the human Inn.”

This way, if I gave Jax a backstory in two different scenes, I would see it immediately. Similarly, if I never talked about Jax’s history, I would notice that, as well, because his name would be missing from the “character” index cards.

For plot-specific things, I also drew arrows between each scene/each pair of index cards. If I couldn’t draw that arrow -- if the scenes didn’t make sense next to each other, if the pacing was wrong, or I needed to move the cards/scenes around -- I knew something was amuck with my plot.

This storyboarding really helped me, because it combined the parts of me that learn visually (storyboard), from reading (the written words on the index cards), and kinesthetically (being able to touch and move the cards as though I were reaching into my world and moving my characters and settings around).

Of course, this method won’t work for everyone because we all have different processes, but it reallllly helped me.

As much or more than the board itself, it helped me to show my friends the storyboard. They were able to find holes that I couldn’t (because I was so close to it), in ways that would have taken much longer/might have been harder to spot reading the entire novel.

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from  Supergirl  offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Wearing a blue plaid shirt and tie, Winn Schott from Supergirl offers a high five to Barry Allen, in his Flash suit with his hood down, as Supergirl watches them both. Gif from http://68.media.tumblr.com/c0c40113a3beb0c0b228b75ffd97a117/tumblr_inline_nm0hoocTk41ss1lam.gif

Collaborating about my plot with my friends and my fiancee was -- and still is -- indescribably helpful. They are not only patient with my oddities and writing insecurities, but they are beyond indulgent, insightful, and creative with their assistance. I couldn’t do it without them!

So, I suppose, I’m saying: storyboarding may help, whether you’re an outliner or a scene-jumper like me. And, friends who are writers/who love reading and who love you are absolutely invaluable.

Feel free to reach out with more questions: this is a great one!!

You got this :)