What I’ve learned about plot (so far)

I haven’t been shy about lamenting my problems with plot while on this blog. It’s the thing that’s plagued me since I started with the book. I just couldn’t find a fitting ending and then when I did and gave it to my writers group and my writing friend Katherine, all their feedback was about the plot in some way or another. Clearly this was an area to work on.

I knew that to work on the plot of my novel I was going to have to change a significant portion of it, which was hard for me. So much of my novel was a part of me. The manuscript was doused in memories from college with quirky little asides and winks at the reader. I loved my story and what it represented to me because it was a beacon in a stormy time of my life.

But I had to let it go.

Knowing that plot was my Achilles’ Heel, I signed up for a class in which it would be the sole focus at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. There, for four weeks I took myself down to the grotto to join Michael Catlin and my fellow classmates for Plotting the Plotted Plot. If that’s not the best name for a class, then I don’t know what is.

The fact that I bid goodbye to my original manuscript was good because Michael pushed me to make definite decisions. That’s what plotting is all about: the definite. In my first class my instruction asked me how my book ends and my response was “uhhhh” and then he told me to figure it out. “But I’m not sure!” I cried. He told me he didn’t care. I needed to commit to something. I could always change it later.

Michael helped me figure out what I was doing wrong when it came to the plot. Basically my head was up in the clouds. I could tell you what the ending signified, but I couldn’t tell you what actually happened and that was a backwards way to do things. Plot needs to exist on earth. It needs to be events that happen to characters.

Characters also drive the plot, and it turns out I knew some of my characters better than other ones. Again, Michael forced me to be fearless in making decisions. I shouldn’t be afraid to make a female character to bitchy things. I shouldn’t be afraid to make my characters wrong, misguided, or, in other words, just plain human.

Once I was forced to know where my characters ended up, and since I already knew where they would begin, filling in the spaces became easier. And, per Micheal’s suggestion (so far he hadn’t lead me astray!) I bought the sticky post-it notes and wrote each scene on one note and ordered them. The different colors represented different characters narrating the story. This was I was able to tell if too much was going on in one scene and I could rearrange things so that the plot has rhythm and flows and doesn’t feel rushed or slow.

plot

Michael is a screenwriter, and I appreciated getting his knowledge on the subject because he looks at it with a different lens. He got me to embrace the fearlessness I knew was always a part of writing, but had avoiding because of my own personal fears.

The plot is basically done. It needs some fine tuning before the calendar turns and I cut myself off from civilization to write my book. It’s just another draft, but this time, with a little more direction.

Hope you are all well, readers, and enjoying my favorite season. Until next time, I’m out.

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One thought on “What I’ve learned about plot (so far)

  1. Screenwriters are all about structure. They have a pretty strict form they have to follow. I’m not sure if this is polite, but I have a post that talks about the end of the story that really goes with what you’re lamenting here

    If you ever need somebody to look at your plot objectively, give me a shout. I’d be happy to help.

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