It seems like I’ll be sharing one writing update per month for the time being! There’s been a few points in the month where I’ve felt like sharing an update, but I had to hold myself back. I generally like to write my blog posts in advance and then put final touches on them closer to their publication date, but that doesn’t really work for writing posts.
So much can change in the course of a single day, regarding my story progress. If I were to record every single up- and down-swing in my confidence, plotting, etc. my posts would be an absolute mess, and nobody wants that!
I think a lot of people harbor secret fantasies of being a writer but struggle to think of ideas or how to build good writing habits. I certainly have, and for a long time. That’s why I am so tempted to overshare right now, even at the expense of it ruining my streaks of progress! I love reading other people’s writing updates, because they get me excited to write. I like to think others might get the same motivation from reading my own trials and tribulations.
So that I don’t overshare on my novel writing progress, I’ve decided to limit myself to just one post per month until I am fully done with my first draft. However, my next few writing posts will also feature a strategy or resource(s) that have helped me in my early stages of writing a novel, starting today with how I plotted the novel on which I’m currently working.
But first, here’s my little writing update!
In my last writing update (Here We Go Again | #AmWriting), I shared my personal deadline for my first draft was May 31st. I had to move it to June 20th for the reasons listed below.
One, I squandered my time, prioritizing blog posts and goals. It’s hard to punish myself when I have been doing work that I’m proud of, especially work (read: reading) that I believe has the added benefit of making me a better writer.
Two, plotting my story has been difficult. I went through three versions to end up at the one that finally, and tidily, unites all the characters and plot lines that have existed in my head some amorphous brain stew. I’m glad that I didn’t start writing before I was confident in my plot, because I don’t think I would have ended up in place that I did or even a place with which I could be truly happy.
Three, for reasons I will share at the end of next month, I will have a lot more time to myself to write in the first half of June. I will be able to use this extra time to write quality words, not hastily written ones that are discardable placeholders. I’ll be able to focus on and live in the story I want to tell.
While I often say that I’m writing when I am actually doing other tasks that help with writing (plotting, world-building, etc.), I have started properly writing this past weekend. I took my plot (in the form of short summary paragraphs with bullet-points), identified the most prominent plot arcs, chose the ones I wanted to work on first, then referred to the books that I thought might give me ideas as I began to write. PROPERLY WRITE!
A List of Possibilities
At long last we’ve reached the point where I will talk about the main topic of this post: making a list of possibilities. I got this idea from a video by Katytastic that I’ve referenced before at the end of Writing Update #1 | NaNoWriMo 2017. She talks about making a list of every possible direction your story could go when you get stuck in your writing. While she is recommending this list for people who have already started writing, I took it and ran with it as a plotting technique.
I can’t plot my stories by following a strict story structure, as much as I’d like to be able to. I find it more useful to refer to well-known story structures as guidelines when I know there’s something missing that I can’t readily identify. Instead I’ve found much more success in plotting by summarizing the story I want to write in the simplest terms.
I rarely know what I’m going to write (read: summarize) ahead of time; I discover it as I go. Unsurprisingly, this never results in a great plot at first. Fortunately, I’m often very easily able to tell when I don’t like something I’ve plotted (for any number of reasons) and go about fixing it.
What I do in these instances is brainstorm different options that fulfill what that plot point needs to do for the story to work, but in a way that satisfies me. Sometimes the first new option I come up with is great and will work, but I try to think of at least one more direction the plot point can take just so that I’m confident in my final choice.
Here’s an example of some of the original options I had for how the female (FMC) and male (MMC) protagonists in my story meet, revised and made more concise than I originally wrote them.
Option 1. MMC introduced before the Hook (witch taken away) as a charismatic mercenary. Meets FMC and build connection before he knows she’s important. Later he is a part of arresting party that takes the witch, helping the FMC avoid similar fate.
Option 2. MMC introduced after Hook, sympathetic to FMC helps her visit the witch in prison driven by his own secret motives.
Neither of these options made the final cut because I eventually realized that my MMC was better utilized not fraternizing with the townsfolk but with another group of people whom my FMC falls in with. Also, I didn’t want his true mission to turn into a reason why the witch was taken away, as it seemed like it might.
Ultimately, I decided not to let the MMC and the witch character’s paths cross at all. A few days after stewing over my plot, I decided to introduce him in an action scene, novel’s first major pinch plot as a mysterious rescuer who was fatefully in the right place at the right time.
(I wish I had a better example, but in the two first plot versions I drafted I deleted the “loser” options, so what did for this post was merge the “winners” from the first two plot iterations. )
If you’ve read this far, I hope you find this post helpful! I bet there’s a proper name and better description out there of what I tried to express through my “list of possibilities,” but I’ve not come across it and this is what worked for me.
Before I go, I will say that this process did not happen all in one day. I’ve always found it necessary to let things stew a few days before I return to work on the story so that I know if I’m still excited by what I came up with. So while making a list of possibilities may seem simple enough, it can become harder the further down the road you get. It’s especially hard if you grow attached to plot points that may not end up fitting well with the rest of the story in the end.
It helped to start a fresh new blank document each time I needed to make a drastic change. That’s why I can clearly delineate in my head two different plot versions (1.0 and 2.0) with their defining characteristics. It was also handy, because it allowed me to preserve old plot ideas that may still be utilized in future novel drafts as I discover what fits.