Friday, October 1, 2010

When Plotting Goes Wrong

I tippity-tapped on my laptop for three hours, the words spewing onto the page, when all of a sudden my fingers stopped. I'm talking halted, frozen in mid-air. I had no idea what the next word, paragraph, or chapter should be.

What's going on, fingers? Why aren't you pulsating with the need to put my brain on a computer file? And what about you, brain? Why aren't you churning out the next scene? What's happening to me...and will chocolate cure it??

I opened the Excel spreadsheet where I keep my detailed scene list. The answer might as well have been flapping on a banner behind an airplane in the sky.

My plot was off.

Uggh. I'm sure there will be a future television show, part reality, part horror detailing this phenomenon When Plotting Goes Wrong, but meanwhile, I needed to get back on track. After all, I promised myself with this book I would set daily goals. I made a deadline to finish it, and even if I had to consume Lindt chocolate truffles by the handful, I would meet that goal.

How did I overcome this plot nightmare? I haven't lassoed it yet, but here are the steps I'm taking to tiptoe through.

1. Review the scenes I've already written.
2. Add any information necessary to that point.
3. Get out a notebook and plot the next scene with attention to the following:

  • Point of View character for scene
  • Mood of character
  • Goal, motivation and conflict for the scene
  • What's the logical next step? (What should the following scene be?)
4. Estimate how many words/scenes/chapters I need to write before the next major turning point. This helps narrow down what needs to happen between now and then.
5. Continue re-plotting the scenes from where I left off until the next turning point.

That's it. It isn't easy. On three separate days, I've spent twice as long, writing half as many words as I normally would, but this book requires a different plotting method than I've used for my other books.

Have you ever stalled in the middle of a writing project? How did you work your way through it?

One Goal Friday is going on hiatus indefinitely. I've enjoyed reading and tracking all of your goals, and I'm rooting for you to continue!

Join me on Monday when we begin to explore October's topic: A Little Help from Our Friends.

Have a terrific weekend!


  1. Blech! I hate it when this happens. And if I try to plot everything out in advance, I just feel bored with the project. I haven't come up with a good solution, so I'm looking forward to the comments today!

  2. I have stalled and I think I got it from Jim Scott Bell, but I threw another unexpected problem at my MC and it got the whole thing back on track.

    ~ Wendy

  3. This is the tale of my short writing career. Happens often. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. But here's what I do:

    1. Pray
    2. Take a mini-retreat
    3. Consult my first editor (husband)
    4. Share the writing with a trusted friend.

    These usually unclog my process and start me back down the write/right path.

    If not, I've learned to keep writing (on other projects) and wait.

    I know -- that's not the answer any writer wants to hear. Books take time. No way around that.

  4. Oh my gosh! You used "plotting" and "wrong" in the same sentence! Nooooo!

    Actually, I know what you mean. This happened to me two stories ago. I had to stop, assess where I'd come from, and readjust my story from then on. I added in another chapter and a half, and plotting the rest again using most of what I already had and adding a little more. It worked well, too, because it upped my word count.

    Have a great weekend!

  5. I've stalled numerous times. The last time I stalled, I put that manuscript away and started back in on another. Strangely enough, I think I have the problem figured out now, so I will return to it someday.

  6. Chocolate and encouragement from a friend sometimes helps me. :O)

  7. Whew, I sure have had this problem before.

    I wind up backtracking to the last place the plot made sense, then evaluating where I got off course and if this new trail clarifies the vision I had for the story or if it muddies to the point of being unrecognizable.

    When I decipher and diagnose the issues, I usually type a line of all caps HERE'S WHERE THE STORY VEERED and then wherever I stopped, I type in HERE'S WHERE I GET BACK ON TRACK. Then I pick up the story threads and move on.

    When I revise, I can clearly see what part is what, and I haven't dumped anything, because I've been known to change my mind about the suitability of a scene much later and I don't want to have deleted it.

    Whew, that was a long post! Thanks for indulging me! I'm sure you'll sort that plot out soon and be back to flying fingers!

  8. You're all brilliant, you know. These are great helps. I'm so glad I'm not alone, and I'm very thankful you shared YOUR get-out-of-plot-sludge tips.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Sounds like a great plan! I've had projects stall for one reason or another. Often the problem is me, not knowing how to proceed. I pray, quit procrastinating and use some of your suggestions.
    Have a great weekend,
    Karen :)

  10. Hi Jill, I actually had a very productive writing day today. But a few days ago I was off in the land you described. I don't have as detailed an outline as you do but I had lost my way and had to rethink a few things before continuing and make some more specific notes about where I was going. I like your structured approach. I'm going to file it for future reference. Thanks!!

  11. Okay first, the answer is yes. Chocolate CAN cure it.
    Second: oh yeah, I've had my share of brain-halting moments. Last time I opened a new document and started over from where I knew I messed up.

    There's always a feeling of "wait, that just doesn't seem right...let me tweak that here and plot this out on notebook paper a bit longer before I continue" then after many pages filled with logical, thought provoking questions and answers, I hopefully will have found what I need.

    That and lots of prayer...
    and chocolate.

  12. Take a walk and a nap...have a cup of coffee and then reread what you've written...then pick up your pen and go...If you are typing on the computer, take a break and do it on paper for a bit....sit outside...mix it up a bit.

    Best wishes...

  13. Hi Jill -

    I'm a SOTP writer. When I get stuck, I pray and take a break.

    Susan :)

  14. I usually shake my fist towards heaven.

    God usually snorts and replies "really?"

    I lower my head and mumble "yeah, I know. Sorry!"

    Next time I'll try the truffles!

  15. So maybe I was just reading in circles (my own fault), but this means you plotted anew to account for the new, organic direction your plot went?

    Plotting is so hard for me. I do the basic sort of summarizing beforehand, taking notes and all, but it's certainly not organized so well.

    You impress me, Jill! Go you.

  16. With all of those good ideas, you should be back on track in no time.

    You seem to be a very detailed and list-oriented person. I love that about you. I try to be like that.

  17. Well, I stepped out of the writers cave...and to the right blog!

    My question is: will they be ticked when the book I "e" to them is quite different from the synopsis I sold????
    At least to ME it was a plot problem!!!
    Blessings, dear one. YOu go!!!!


  18. Jill, first of all, thank you for doing the One Goal Friday. I know it was LOTS of work and I appreciated it the times I made it over here. It kept me focused. :)

    I always let the hubby read and he's actually a pretty good critter. Though, at first when he makes a suggestion for change, I get huffy. "How can you say that?" Stuff like that. Even though I know he's right.

    But prayer changes everything. Even in a MS. God will always get us back on track.

    Great post, Jill.(^_^)

  19. I'm just catching up with the new comments--thank you! Thank you for being honest about what halts your progress and what helps you get back on track. How inspiring!

    (Janna, to answer your question, yes, I had to re-plot four chapters. The way I had the scenes laid out originally just wasn't powerful or functional for the story.)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  20. I think going back to the notebook is excellent advice. When the plot stalls for me (as it frequently does) it's usually because I've not considered the motivations and emotional state of the characters sufficiently. They can't act because I haven't thought about their needs enough. So going back to the notebook, as you say, and paying attention to POV, is a great idea. Often I end up just writing in the first person about what the character is feeling and wanting, and the answer often emerges.
    But that is not to say chocolate isn't the greatest plot buster ever. Especially chocolate with nuts in - because that makes it a health food.

  21. I totally get where you're coming from! I do what you do--see how far until my next major turning point and decide what is critical to have happen before then. Since I always know my turning points, they are like tent pegs to keep me grounded.


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