Tighten Your Plot: First Two Tips

by | June 23, 2020 |

You have a great story in mind. Really great. You sit down to write, all fired up … and then you wobble and go off the rails. With some effort you find the storyline only to get sidetracked again. Eventually you’re holding a bunch of loose threads. Here are some tips to tighten your plot and get your great story back on track.

I’ll suggest two in this blog and three more on Friday.

Title Image: Getty Images. Creator: M-A-U

Tighten Your Plot: Tip #1

Avoid internal monologue dither

Internal monologue is the privileged province of the novelist. As storytellers we are uniquely positioned to get inside our characters to know exactly what they’re thinking, feeling and remembering at any given moment.

Theater has the soliloquy. The bosom friend character exists on stage and on screen to receive information about the main character’s inner life, but for the reveal to happen the scene has to be set. In contrast, we novelists get to dart in and out of our characters’ interiors at will.

The trick is to use our privilege well.

One. Internal monologue doesn’t count as plot and can’t replace plot.

Two. The succession of internal monologues in any given story must continuously reveal new information about the character’s thoughts/feelings/memories. No repeating the point that the character feels bad about X or is mad about Y.

Three. Beware the interior monologue dump.

You may write a lot of interior monologue especially at the beginning of your story when you’re getting to know your characters. But be ruthless in editing it. You may need to know everything all at once about your characters’ interior lives. The reader doesn’t.

Interior monologue is important, but focus on your plot. Keep the story moving.

Tighten Your Plot: Tip #2

Determine your dimensions

If you’re a beginning novelist, try playing a numbers game in order to improve your chances of having a tight plot.

One. How big do you imagine your story to be? Ten thousand words? Forty thousand? Eighty? One hundred and twenty?

All painters have to size their canvas before they can begin to paint. Likewise, you, the novelist, need to have a sense of the narrative space you need to fill. In painting terms, ten thousand words or less is a still life or a portrait. One hundred and twenty thousand is a mural.

Two. How many main and secondary characters are you planning to create? A portrait may have one or two main characters or perhaps a family of four. A mural might have half-a-dozen main characters and a slew of secondary ones.

Depending on the size of your story, you may have to create more characters as you go. It just might be that your main character needs a best friend – or an enemy. And, again, depending on the size of your story, you may have to condense characters as you go. The co-worker and the best friend from college might work better if they were one and the same person.

Don’t be afraid to amend your cast of characters.

Three. How many plot lines do you have up and running?

Think of it this way: a half-hour sit com has one issue to resolve; an hour drama likely has two.

Tighten Your Plot: My Shapeshifter Trilogy

In December I finally started writing Money For Nothing, Book II in my shapeshifter trilogy. It had been on my back burner for easily three years. I always knew it would be a Florida crime caper story wrapped around a werepanther romance. After only three chapters, I saw that the one caper storyline was not going to sustain the scope I’m going for here, even with the romance. So I complicated the heroine’s family life. At the point I am now in writing the story I can report that her brother has really screwed things up.

My point is: The right-sized story with the right amount of characters and a sufficiently simple or complex plot will, ideally, run like a well-built train laying its own rails.

The first story in my shapeshifter trilogy is Buy Me Love

See: All My Writing Tips


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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