Plot Clinic: What to do When Your Plot is Old Ketchup

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So, how’s your NaNoWriMo going then? Mine is floundering. I won’t bore you with reasons but the start of the month has been quite busy so I haven’t had many writing days. Fortunately the last couple of weeks of November is clear so I’m hoping to pull back my word count before the end of the month.

One of the challenges I am facing, and one that I’ve experienced before, is dealing with a plot that just doesn’t seem to want to happen. At times, when I’m writing, the words seem to spill onto the page like watered down ketchup: Get that stuff going and you end up with more than you wanted and it’s all over everything. Believe it or not, those are the good days. At other times, writing is like trying to pour ketchup from the bottle that is old and sticky and congealed and stubborn: It refuses to budge from the bottle no matter how much tapping and shaking and squeezing and threatening you apply. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. So what do you do with your bad ketchup plot?

The first thing you can do is understand why your plot is being so difficult. Is it the characters, are they just not very appealing to you? Is it because the plot is forced and unnatural? Is it because it’s out of your comfort zone and you just don’t feel very confident? Or is it because your inner editor is sitting on your shoulder telling you that your story is gilded trash? If you can figure out why the writing is difficult you might be able to figure out how to unstick it.

The second thing you can do is KEEP WRITING. It’s easier to understand what needs fixing when you’re moving through your story rather than stalled. You might be wading now, but sooner or later everything will click and the plot will flow. My NaNoWriMo this year has been a bit tricky because I’m in uncharted territory. I’m working in a genre that’s unfamiliar and I’m (roughly) working to an outline template that’s also unfamiliar. That means that I’m feeling my way through the story rather than running with it. However, I’ve found that the more I write the smoother it’s flowing. When I was really stuck I just wrote some really rough prose to bridge the narrative I was stuck on and then went back over it and fleshed it out a little bit later once I’d figured out what I’d forgotten to cover. The same advice goes for the inner editor problem. I have endless trouble with that little guy whispering in my ear and telling me how bad my writing is. Put that guy back in his box. He has no place meddling in your first draft. He knows nothing about creating, he only knows about perfecting and that comes later. Power through.

But what happens if you’re stuck because of some more fundamental problem? One of the things I do when I’m writing is to keep a notes document. This is a running file containing a few important elements, like character names, locations and important facts. It’s there to remind me about important details so I don’t have to go back and check. As I’m writing I also come across changes I need to make to stuff I’ve already written. I might change a name, or location, I might want to change something about a character, alter their back story or what they look like, I might also need to change the plot either by adding a new scene or by changing an existing one. Some times this can be dealt with there and then, but sometimes the changes are quite extensive. It’s important to maintain your momentum so I make some notes in my file and carry on as if the changes have been made. If you’re stuck because you don’t know how to approach a scene, or because you’ve written yourself into a corner, make a note of it and move on. No-one said you have to write your novel in the order the reader will read it.

Remember, no matter what state your plot is in right now, it can be fixed in editing. JUST KEEP WRITING. Good luck with the last couple of weeks of NaNoWriMo.

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Do you have any plot-fixing tips to share? You never know, someone might need your advice. 🙂

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