When writing a rough draft, I find it easiest to jump in and write a few chapters to see what the characters have in mind. Which works well for me – except when it doesn’t.
Ten chapters into my latest work in progress I stumbled upon a major problem. I didn’t know how it ended. Worse, I found that I couldn’t see where this story began. This is a stumbling block of insurmountable proportions, so I quickly stopped to take stock to see what I could do to get over, around or through it.
I hauled out every book I own on plot. (Amazingly enough, I own tons of books about writing. I must love to read or something.)
- Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham
- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
- The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray
- The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field
- Plot by Ansen Dibell
- Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress
- and No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, or how to pretend to write a novel in 30 days.
Surely these fine authors could help me plow through this challenge easily.
After spending an inordinate amount of time looking at these books – and a multitude of blogs – I came to the harsh conclusion that these folks are not me. Their solutions are not mine. I needed to look at this from my own perspective.
I filled out index cards. (Actually, I let Scrivener print the index cards — love this program.)
I plotted the fifteen point solution to plotting that so many children’s writers use.
I looked at inciting incidents and plot points and character motivations. And still had the front end problem.
So I took it to the mat, AKA my critique group.
They didn’t tell me what to do; They asked me questions. And I found my answer. I still have to do the work, but my critique group helped me find it. (Have I mentioned lately why I love critique partners?)
So what were the questions they asked?
What is her motivation? (She had two conflicting ones, which explains a lot about why I was sitting there treading water with her instead of moving forward.)
What does she want?
Why does she take the job that is central to the book’s action?
What scares her about the job?
What are the stakes for her if she fails?
None of these were new-to-me questions. I had done an extensive character sketch that includes these questions before starting this book.
But remember that duality I was dealing with. I hadn’t decided if she was inherently light or if she had a slight streak of larceny running through her veins. Turns out the duality makes sense for this character. One of her main motivations is to reunite with her family. She’s been cast out for getting arrested for grand larceny. Made sense if her family was on the good-guy side of the art world, but things kept cropping up in the chapters that indicated her family were criminal masterminds. (Which I was loving.)
Then came a follow-up question, the perfect question.
What if it was the character’s family of origin had a split-personality?
One branch are law-biding, fine upright member of society kind of people. The other branch of the family are highly organized thieves. Main Character’s got to make a decision which path to take incidentally deciding which side of the family are “her” people.
That sounds like something I can work with.