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 for tightening your plot and getting your great story back on track.
On Tuesday I posted Tighten Your Plot: First Two Tips. Today I’m posting three more.
Title Image: Getty Images. Creator: M-A-U
Tightening Your Plot: Tip #3
Don’t forget the plot twist
Book I in my shapeshifter trilogy is Buy Me Love. It’s a British police procedural (murder mystery) crossed with a romance. Moses (M) is a detective at Scotland Yard. He and his team have before them a particularly difficult murder to solve. And for reasons that have everything to do with the murder, an outside person comes on his team, a woman named Zelda (Z).
The romance plot twist in this story is not necessarily the usual one that takes the reader by surprise. It’s rather that hard-headed, facts-based Moses confronts, mid-story, the possibility that Zelda is a werewolf. (The reader could be surprised by this plot point, if they hadn’t read the prequel The Alpha’s Edge. But surprising the reader wasn’t my aim.) As far as Moses is concerned, werewolves don’t exist. Or do they?
The murder plot twist comes at the end and is the usual one: the reader should find satisfaction (and surprise) to see two otherwise non-coincident story lines unexpectedly come together. The trick, of course, is to ensure the twist makes narrative sense.
Tightening Your Plot: Tip #4
Pay attention to fractions
Do you know what will happen a quarter of the way into your story? At the half-mark? At three-quarters?
Here’s the plot line I kept for Buy Me Love. When I began this page was blank. I made the first mark on the page (Chapter) 1 on the top left.
Before starting I had no idea how many chapters I would have. But I projected the story to be 80,000 words.
You can also see that I clearly cared where the 40,000-word-mark hit because I noted it boldly in the center of the page. Mid-story is the exact right place for the mystery plot and the romance plot to intersect. And they do.
Ch 24 has the notation Madame Tussauds. It marks the beginning of the end. Ch 29 is a coda. These last six chapters make up about one-fifth of the story.
I then went back over Chs 1 – 23, the first four-fifths of the story. You see that I marked off fractions over various chapters. And I noted what was happening at each point. At the bottom of the page I kept track of the progression of the murder case, day by day.
The story ended up having 76,000 words and seven characters with unique POVs. Paula (P) comes and goes by the halfway-mark of the first three-fourths. And she’s part of the romance plot. Viorica (V) works at Scotland Yard with Moses. And she’s part of the mystery plot.
All of these notational efforts were to make sure that both plot lines – the murder mystery and the romance – were in balance. And that I had a continuous unfolding of new information at every moment in each.
Tightening Your Plot: Tip #5
Make the big scene the big scene.
If you’ve built a good train and sent it chugging down its track, you want it to keep going through the big finale.
I’ve already noted that the denouement of Buy Me Love is the last fifth of the book. I wanted a spectacular solution to a spectacular murder. And I needed all that narrative space to stage it.
Here’s the plot line I’m currently keeping on Money For Nothing, Book II in my shapeshifter trilogy. Like Buy Me Love I project this story to have 80,000 words. And, once again, I clearly cared where mid-point came, because I noted the figure 38,650 at the beginning of Chapter 14.
Today I began Chapter 23. I’m keeping my own advice in mind: make the big scene the big scene. Because the Big Scene starts now. I’m bringing several plots together. Plus I have to tee up the plot for Book III. And I expect to extend the scene across three, maybe four chapters.
At the bottom of my chart I’m keeping track of what happens on what days. I have two main characters, Wendy (W) and Jackson (J), who have POVs. In addition Tiffany (T) has one chapter from her POV. Arianna (A) has two.
My immediate point: Give your good story good narrative pay-off.
Tightening Your Plot
My overall point: I’ve provided my plot lines for Buy Me Love and Money For Nothing to demonstrate how steady I hold my narrative reins. Good plotting doesn’t just happen. You have to control the narrative.
You can get Buy Me Love at Barnes and Noble.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen