Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Pantser's Guide to Revision 4 - Fixing your plot

Inventor Nicola Tesla could imagine complex electro-mechanical devices in such detail that it was difficult for him to determine if he had built them or not. I suppose there are a few pantsers who can map out entire novels in their heads or generate prose day after day without introducing blind alleys, characters who don't fulfill their arcs, and lots of loose ends that need to be cut or tied. But for most pantsers, plot problems are not a surprise.

The good news is that the unexpected elements that turn up because you write by the seat of your pants can add surprises, fun, and insights to the final work. And, if they don't, they can be cut. Anything can be fixed, and it's easier to add magic in the original creation process than it is to salt it in later. Panters may dread the rewrite, but they have freedom that those who meticulously plot out their stories usually don't. When the story begins as a clever but bolted-down design where everything counts, flaws can become a big deal. Perfect pieces need to be fashioned to make the repair or fill that exact hole that shows up in the draft.

Plotters do have one big advantage in fixing plots -- it's much easier for them to spot where the problem is. They can return to their detailed outlines and check the logic. They can pull out their character analyses and identify actions that aren't motivated or that take the story away from its design.

Pantsers often need to create outlines and sketches after the draft is done.

Here's what I do first:
  • Examine or explore the logline. Is the protagonist's goal simple and clear? Can success be shown in a single photograph-like image?
  • Write in a sentence what the main character wants. 
  • In another sentence, write what he or she needs.
  • And, if I can determine the theme (sometimes I can't), I write that down.
These often come out in incomplete or confusing ways, but even partial answers provide good guides for the next steps:
  • Outline the story, with full sentences for each scene in the work.
  • Separate plot from subplot if possible.
  • Subject plots and subplots to the South Park test. (Scenes can be connected by "therefore" or "but.")
  • Make repairs as necessary.
  • Subject the plots and subplots to Jeffrey Kitchen's "Writing Backwards" approach to story logic.
  • Make repairs as necessary.
At this point, I often need to move some scenes around so they flow in a more logical manner. (This creates its own set of minor discontinuities and puts some clues and reveal into the wrong places, but that's not a concern now.) I also probably need to write some more scenes. And lots of scenes look like they need to be cut. (I don't erase them. I put them into a separate folder. They may turn out to be of value later.)

When I've done all this work, a lot more rewriting might be necessary (and, happily, obvious). But the good news is that I should have a solid plot that works. There may be problems with pacing (trimming usually helps a lot here) and emotional involvement (reentering the story is essential and, often, making life tougher for the protagonist is the best answer). The specifics of fixing scenes may be tough to handle, but the plot is now as strong as any that is done by master plotters.

So the biggest challenge for seat of the pants work is answered at this point. The dreaming is done (mostly). The work of the mechanic is complete. Now the pantser needs to take the role of reader and make the changes needed to create an immersive experience. Next time, get ready to get lost -- lost in the story.

Go here if you want to read the Pantser's Guide from the beginning.

My first How To Write Fast book will be out later this year. As part of that, I'm looking for opportunities to present seminars, speak, and guest blog. I can be reached at howtowritefast@gmail.com
Want more? This course has just begun.

Lost in the Story

Dates: Jun 6- 27, 2016 Cost: $20
Course Description:
A workshop on reader immersion.
We all know what it’s like when we enter a story so thoroughly we forget the world around us. Getting readers totally engaged is a huge part of success for fiction writers. In this class, you’ll work with the instructor to master the four essential elements of story immersion: creating a good foundation (meaning avoiding mistakes that can distract), sensory details (in the right measure), emotion (especially concern for the protagonist), and verisimilitude. As you continue, you’ll learn to architect your story with hooks, surprises, turns, pacing, and a satisfying ending. The class will conclude with voice, style, and ways to charm the reader.

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