Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Plots, and How To Find Them

I am currently chasing an elusive plot. Stalking it through the undergrowth, if you will.

I have lots of elements. I have two very nasty people in league with each other. One is dead. One is alive and continually thinking up worse stuff to do (although I haven't quite figured out what that is yet). I have vicious rumours circulating about the dead one. And I have two people who want to know what's really going on.

There is a plot in there. I'm just having some trouble finding it.

I am a seat-of-pants writer. I ponder and ponder and then, when I have a clear enough picture of where I want to go, I dive in and hope for the best. This works for me most of the time, but when it doesn't, this happens.

And it's very hard to be productive in a situation like this. When I'm dreading a difficult scene, I just have to bite the bullet and write it. But it's hard to bite the bullet and think of a plot.

'I'll just do the washing up,' one decides. 'And then I will sit down and have a good hard think.'

You do the washing up, then you go to the couch and sit down for your good think. You may even assume the Thinker pose, just to get your mind in the right place. And then you say to yourself 'Right.'
'Here we go.'
'Time to think.'
long pause
long pause
'OK. What have I got to work with? Character A, dead to begin with. Character B, baddie. Character C, protagonist. Character D, protagonist's love interest.'
long pause
'They all ought to do something.'
long pause. Make tea.
'Something compelling. Something really interesting. Is that mould on that bread? I just bought it yesterday. I'm never shopping there again.'
Sip tea
'Actually, I should clean out the kitchen. There's a few things in the fridge past their best.'

See? This thinking lark is bloody hard.

The only realistic way to approach it is to try to sneak up on your brain. Distract it with books, chocolate, episodes of 30 Rock and Glee, and whenever it sighs and says 'Hmmm, that plot problem. . .' you instantly shush every other thought so you can tune into that one. Then it gets self-conscious and goes quiet, so you sigh and go back to the telly.

This has been going on for a while. It has come to a head today, though, because I have my monthly writers' group tonight. The writers' group I'm in is about meeting up and writing together for motivation, rather than for critique, so I am spared the shame of showing up with no pages.

However. We do actually write together when we meet up, which is almost worse, because all I can do at this point is - well, think. Which, to a casual observer, looks astoundingly like slacking off.

I'll end on a practical note, though. I am planning to spend tonight's Writers' Thingie (the name has kind of stuck. . .) free-writing about my characters. This has worked for me before - pen on paper, brain on autopilot, and hope for the best. The downside is that you end up with sentences like this:
He's all about darkness, really, isn't he, I mean when you actually stop and think about it, that's what he is. So I should use that. Maybe there could be some kind of scene in a graveyard although I'm not sure where that would fit in.
In spite of that, though, if I can force myself to sift through the crap, sometimes free-writing can turn up some things that were hovering just below the surface of the mind and needed to be coaxed out.

Wish me luck :)


  1. You have my empathy, i know this well. Am there. it will come out in the writing, eventually. No harm in thinking, as long as the pens moving. What about listing ten possible `what nexts` and pick the three hottest to explore in free writing for 15mins each? Good luck!

  2. Good luck!

    For the first time ever, I sat down the other night and outlined the rest of my WIP to make sure the plot wasn't lost. Sounds silly, but I was in real danger of going off on a tangent. It feels better now to be back on track.

  3. I interviewed my characters before I sat down to write the next revision. Oh, had they been holding out! I used laptop and handwriting in my notebook for the book. It did help and my story evolved. I then sent out a story sketch to my peeps and let them poke holes into it. Then I fixed the holes, chatted with the peeps some more and now I have a story to write--again.

    You can do this!

  4. I am back on track!

    Great tips, guys, thank you! They came in very handy.

  5. Hello Ellen! Glad you are back on track - I think the free-writing is a good idea when stuck for, well, ideas. Hm... (I am having one of those 'call yourself a writer' moments!) Good to virtually meet you, anyway!

  6. Good luck Ellen! I love the image of you chasing after a pesky plot, trying to hunt it down...

  7. Hi Jayne, thanks for stopping by :) Free-writing can be so handy, and in this case it worked! I paid your blog a visit too btw, well done on having the courage to take time out from the working world to focus on your writing. And your cats are adorable!

    Talli, that's exactly how it feels sometimes. . .


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