Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Have Fun Plotting, Again - Fixes and furthermores

I have, at times, plotted every scene before writing the first line of a story. I've also jumped in with no preparation and crashed through from beginning to end as a total pantser. In both cases, I've found that stories tend to shape themselves. And when, after letting the manuscript cool down for 4-6 weeks, I read through what I have, I always find delight and despair.

Some scenes jump out, alive and surprising while others are painful and tedious. It's easy to focus too much on what is not working and lose enthusiasm for the story. It can be hard to find the fun.

One thing you can do is go back to review the reasons you're writing the story. This often re-energizes me, even as I fret about plot holes and characters who do more talking than acting. A more direct approach is to clear away the worst debris and find the treasures.

In the first draft, I often have scenes that, in my estimation, doom the manuscript. These monopolize my attention, activate the grumpy editor in my head, and block the fun. If this happens for you, too, I recommend you take this steps:
  1. Choose the five worst offenders. Which scenes are the most hopeless and distressing? (It's okay to choose fewer than five, but not more. Don't encourage the grumpy editor.)
  2. Write down what would be the most important Fix for each. The scenes may need lots of rewriting before they can be brought to an acceptable level, and it's okay to list work that needs to be done. But, at this stage, keep things simple by finding one revision -- cutting narration, adding a hook at the end, re-sequencing, etc. -- that will make a big improvement.
  3. Make your five Fixes. Do this in no more than five writing sessions. That's as much as the grumpy editor needs right now. If you can do them all in one session, even better. Be sure to consider cutting the whole scene from the manuscript. That's always a fast revision.
Now that the major obstacles to fun are taken care of (and don't worry, those scenes will get more work later, at a more appropriate time), you are free to enjoy plotting. Here's my process:
  1. Identify favorites scenes (as many as you want, but at least five). Which scene creates the most emotion? Which scene is the story in miniature? Which scene introduces a quirky character you love? Which scene would you love to read out loud to a friend? Which one is excruciating for the hero?
  2. Explore the Furthermores. I like this best. For each of your favorite scenes, consider how you might add details, begin them earlier, or end them later. See if you can make them bigger, by heightening conflict raising stakes, or changing the setting. Consider new scenes with the characters you fell in love with or parallel scenes that are more consequential or exaggerated in some way. Look at returns -- return to a person, return to a place, return to a theme.
  3. Write the Furthermores. Extend or create at least five scenes. Write whatever delights you and don't worry about what may be needed to fit these into the larger work. For now, just have a good time.
If, upon your first draft read through, the grumpy editor has not appeared (or is weak), feel free to jump to the Furthermores right away. Don't worry about the macro view of your manuscript, analyzing for story logic or essential beats or tropes. Leave that until later. Right now, you are reentering your story world, building enthusiasm, and creating more material to work with.

Story holes are in the space in between Furthermores and the macro view. If it feels like fun to fill one, go ahead and write the scene. Otherwise, just note that it's needed and, if options occur to you, write them down in full sentences.

What happens after you've had your fun? There's still a lot of work to do and not all of it will be easy. And you'll need to bring in the grumpy editor from time to time. But provided you have defined tasks and a sensible process, you should have the momentum to really finish the story and make it into a page-turner. I'll provide some suggestions on how to approach this with my next post.


Tell a story in 1000 words. My online course, Writing Flash Fiction, begins Monday, April 4. http://lowcountryrwa.com/workshops/all-workshops/

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