Oh, Plot, where art thou?

I am severely plot challenged. It’s happened again. I get to the middle of a book where the going gets tough and suddenly a new voice and a new novel idea pops into my head, with a great beginning.

Beginnings. Sigh. Beginnings come easy to me.

And so the question comes, do I stay with the novel-that-feels-like-it’s-headed-nowhere-fast, or do I skip down the road to the newer-exciting-feels-like-it-has-a-hook novel?

My solution this time is that I’m compromising. I’m sticking with the novel that feels like it’s headed nowhere fast because I must actually finish the first draft of a novel at some point in my life, and it’s the closest one to being done. And then, if I do time every day on the sucky-novel-that-will-never-be-published-but-must-be-finished-to-prove-I-can-finish-something-long,
then I can play for a few minutes a day with the voice and characters of the newer, more exciting novel. Which will be fun, I think.

Right up to the point where I begin to search for a plot for it, anyway.

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24 thoughts on “Oh, Plot, where art thou?

  1. I had to check to see if I wrote this.
    I could have.
    I’m there now — except without the new novel in the wings. Actually, I have two novels each halfway through to the point of no-plot. Dang.

    I do think there is value in pushing through, though. Even if it is just to prove to myself — I mean, YOURself — that you can do it.

  2. Anonymous

    A tough decision! It’s like having invested the time in reading a novel to the middle and still finding yourself bogged down by it. Do you finish, now that you’ve put in so much time with it? Or close the book for good and go on to the promising one that’s sitting on your night stand.

    I’ve also heard that there are no wrong decisions. There are only decisions, and each choice will take you down a different path.

    I’m sure you’ll chose the right path.

  3. I understand completely. I have no solutions. Have you tried working from the end and up. Just forget the middle for now. Go write the last chapter. Or the last three.

    Write the last line, then the last paragraph, then the last page, then the last chapter … go backwards.

    It works for me because that’s how I read a novel. I read the beginning. Then I read the end. Then I read the middle to figure out how the middle turned into the end.

    1. This is a good idea. The good thing about the novel-that-sucks is that I actually do have an outline of the plot. It’s not a great one and it has some holes, hence the challenges, but I do know where I’m headed eventually. So maybe I need to write that part and then come back to where I’m stuck.

  4. So, Cheryl Klein says the first draft is when you just write the story. Play. Have fun. Get to know your character.

    When you revise, that is when you think about plot (plot being different than story).

    Have you read her notes on plot? If not, they are very good.

    But don’t do it now. Do it after you finish the first draft. 🙂

    You can do it!!!!

    1. I was just thinking of you this morning on the way from dropping the kids off at school. I thought, “How does Lisa forge through so many drafts so quickly? When she sets out to write a book, it seems like she’s done in a matter of weeks.” I don’t mean I’m comparing myself to you or other writers. I’m just thinking that there has to be a way to go forth without getting bogged down in second-guessing.

      And really, I can’t go read her notes? I know I’ve read them before. Okay, I’ll wait.

      1. Well, I think it gets easier with each novel you write. The first two mid-grades I wrote, I remember stopping for loooong periods of time because I just wasn’t sure of where it was going, what I was doing, etc. One book I left for 6 months before I came back to it.

        Now I take more notes before I start – not an outline, but just notes. What does each character want? What are some things I envision happening along the way? What do the relationships look like between characters? That kind of thing.

        One important thing to remember – each relationship has the opportunity to be a subplot, because there can be conflict in those relationships. I think that’s one easy way to increase conflict in your book. Not every relationship needs to be in conflict, of course. But some should be. 🙂

        Okay, I’ll be quiet now. Of course you can go read Cheryl’s notes if you want. They can be a teeny bit overwhelming, though.

  5. I hear ya, sister. I have so many “good starts” in the file cabinet. 🙂

    I had to force myself to write a synopsis at about 1/3 or 1/2 way through (right about the time I hit that saggy middle) so I could stay on some sort of a path. It seemed easier once I got in a ways to figure out a synopsis/outline even if pretty bare and rough. And I knew I had to get from this decent beginning to some kind of end, so by writing the short version I sort of had to force myself to think up some kind of middle.

    1. Well, that’s actually what I’ve done with the novel-that-sucks-and-will-never-be-published that I need to finish. I have an outline (spare but still a form) for each chapter. ALL I have to do is finish writing the thing and then go back and redo the first chapter because I made a change later on that forces a key change to that first chapter. But I know it sucks and so it makes me not want to finish it. But I also know I’ve done this enough times that I will eventually think that my shiny-new-idea sucks too and I just need to finish something to prove I can.

      So I will.

  6. Like Lurban, did I write this?

    Characters in search of a plot.
    Titles in search of a plot.
    Premises in search of a plot.

    That’s me, the plotless one. I only differ from you in that I TRY not to start writing until I have one. Sadly, I am not s good at recognizing my plotless plots.

    1. How do you not write till you have a plot? Once the voice gets in my head, I want to get it down on paper. But this time I’m pulling back on the reins. Okay, back to the not so shiny idea.

      1. Well, I know what you’re saying. And it’s fine to do it the way you’re doing it–it’s fine to do whatever works. But what you’re saying is it’s not working just to listen to the voice; you’re getting halfway through a book and you don’t know where to go. These disembodied voices we all talk about don’t tell their stories with plots, usually. So you can listen to the voice–you can record the voice–but at some point you have to plot, and to me it seems like a huge waste of time and major damage to my typing fingers to write 40,000 words without any sense of where I’m going.

        Others may feel differently. Others DO feel differently.

        And you know I’m facing the same challenges so take what I say with a mountain of salt.

  7. I always, always panic mid to 3/4 through a novel. Start to worry how I’m gonna pull it off, if I can pull it off, is still a good story?? All that stuff. Most of the time I have to force myself to write the rest of the book.

  8. my 2 cents

    Keep going! I feel that way with EVERY novel I write. The middle, well, that is where I get muddled. I am always convinced it is a stupid story with no point. And then those new ideas start whispering “pick me, pick me!” and they are tempting, but I whisper right back, “If you are as good as you say you are, you will still be around when I finish this one.”

    1. Re: my 2 cents

      Okay, I’m whispering. I’ve written down just a few hundred words to get the voice down and some key parts of the story I was hearing. But now it’s back to the grind on the first story, which I actually love for the most part. I just don’t think it’s marketable.

  9. Add me to the chorus of “did I write that?” because I feel like I am the plotless wonder who is not quite so much a wonder. I do all of the above. Start books and not finish them. Get the middle and try to write an outline of some kind. Write the end. Try to come up with the end. Give up and start another book. Go back to the first book with that one flounders too.

    I don’t know what the answer is because every time I think about plot I get a little bit shakey. People tell me to just write the story but it is hard.

    I guess I have absolutely nothing constructive to offer except that I am right there with you.

  10. I’m chiming in late, and I see from the above post that you’ve been working for TEN days straight on the novel-that-you-are-pushing-through. Yay for you!

    One thing that Cheryl mentioned to me, and I don’t think is in her fabulous notes on plot, is to look for The Gap—the space between what the character (and thus the reader) expects to happen, and what actually does. It’s helped me tremendously, mostly because it allows me to keep MY interest up in the middle. I think I get bogged down because I’m bored. I know where the story’s going. But with the Gap, I can add surprises along the way. You still get there, but by a much more interesting road.

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