Guest blogger Katey Coffing on Plotting
Hello from the guest blogger! My name is Katey Coffing, Ph.D., and I was fortunate to be a 2007 Golden Heart® finalist along with several of the 2003 Noodlers. (Since the Wet Noodle Posse led the way by choosing such a memorable name, we in the '007 GH crew call ourselves "Licenced to Sell." ;-) )
I'm delighted to have a fantastic day job: I'm a certified life coach who helps writers succeed. Because of that, I've seen just about every kind of roadblock our fertile, writerly minds can throw at us. You've probably experienced a few of them yourself. Perhaps you were zooming along on a manuscript, only to be become inexplicably stuck. (Or even sideswiped by a writer's block so vicious you gave up and hid the manuscript under the floorboards.)
That block may not be the product of a fickle muse or of a recalcitrant idea generator. Your subconscious may have been trying to tell you something's amiss in the structure of that story--in the plot and how your characters react to it.
Structural flaws aren't always obvious to your conscious mind. But your subconscious realizes a great many things, many of which it has trouble communicating to its more articulate roommate.
This can result in a block of colossal proportions as your mute subconscious tries to get you to stop building on shaky ground. The translation: There's something seriously wrong here. Don't add anything until you figure out the problem. So if you're feeling stuck and you're not sure why, put on your Building Inspector's hardhat and dig in.
What kind of structural problems should you look for? Well, it's an unfair truth that there are as many ways to botch a good book as there are to write one! But here's an example from my own experience, and the solution I created.
Years ago while nearing the end of my second romance manuscript, my momentum dribbled through those aforementioned floorboards. Instead of writing the story, I found myself testing new ways to organize my drawer of binder clips and rubber bands. After a few weeks of this (it was a large drawer), I needed answers. I re-read many chapters and realized the scenes after the midpoint of the book felt unfocused, and so did my characters. Seat-of-the-pants writing had worked great for my first manuscript, but pantsing the second had become a miserable experiment. My story needed a major overhaul.
To get a feel for the necessary repairs, I consulted several of my favorite advisors: Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer http://www.amazon.com/Techniques-Selling-Writer-Dwight-Swain/dp/080611197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205391373&sr=8-1, Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com/si/1.html, and Carolyn Greene's Prescription for Plotting http://www.theplotdoctor.netfirms.com/workbook.html.
With their help, I created a template--a master list of key ingredients for can't-put-it-down scenes. These included (among other things) a "ticking clock" to propel the pace, crafty opening and closing hooks, unique scene strategies and obstacles for each main character, plot (and character) surprises, and a meaningful symbol that would enhance the emotion for my reader. (My template included things I felt I already did well AND things that could stand improvement, so a list customized for your writing might differ from mine.)
Wow--just a simple list, but having it put me back in control. Now I had a template to help me think through each scene of my novel! And I could easily tweak which ingredients I used from one scene to the next. (By the way, pantsers who would rather chew tacks than plot can use this technique for revisions.)
I tested my solution by looking at scenes I'd already written but seemed flat. With the list in hand, I was able to brainstorm new plot twists and sharpen my characters' goals, sparking life and energy in the manuscript! And new scenes flowed easily because I knew from the very first sentence what that scene needed--and I had the road map to make it happen.
So next time you get stuck, consider whether there's a structural problem that has jammed your writer brain. If so, be willing to bring in the jackhammers, welding tools, and cement trucks. (Of course, don't forget the studly construction crew.) And whether you plot or "pants", I'm wishing you a finished novel that brings you (and your readers!) joy.
Goalmeister Katey Coffing, Ph.D. helps her clients complete and polish their manuscripts, create kick-ass queries and synopses, and get The Call from agents and publishers. Discover more at Women-Ink.com. http://www.women-ink.com/