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So, I have this WIP I've been working on for far too long, and it seems to have grown a lot of kudzu starts and taken over the book. I feel like I've developed the characters into nice, round individuals, but the plot is starting to look like a math problem that isn't adding up. I've seen a lot of threads here about underplotting, and how to fill that out, but what about overplotting? What techniques do you have that help you see what needs to stay and what needs to go? I've never been able to sit down and outline a complete book robotically first and then write it without killing it 100% dead, although I suppose I do have a sort of unspoken picture in my head of where I want it to go. I've done a number of outlines of the draft as-is, trying to make sure it's all headed to the right place at the end, but I just feel like it's off course and unnecessarily complicated. Has this happened to any of you? How do you get rid of the plot squirrels and get it back on course? (FWIW I've written a number of complete and functional novels before this, so I'm not sure why this one is growing so strangely.)
#1 - February 27, 2015, 07:24 AM

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Are there maybe secondary characters you could combine into one who would still serve their purpose in the overall story?  That's happened before to me, and doing that helped streamline things and lopped off some of the kudzu (great metaphor!)
#2 - February 27, 2015, 07:33 AM
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Rose, have you tried writing a one-sentence synopsis to describe the book? It's tough, but having the beginning middle and end right there in once sentence really helped me streamline the plot my last project, which had gotten too complicated. I went through all the subplots and asked myself, sternly, "Is this a necessary component of the story? Does it feed or enhance the crux of my one-sentence synopsis?" I also went through the ms cutting "boring" parts. Did I love some of them? YES! But they had to go.

By doing that I was able to remove several beloved characters and plot threads that didn't help tell the REAL story, and/or slowed the page-turning because that part of the scene didn't matter.

#3 - February 27, 2015, 08:37 AM
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Sometimes when I'm struggling with a paragraph or scene or even chapter, writing it over and over again, I finally stop and ask myself what would happen if I just left it out. Often I don't miss it at all and the book is improved (and it's less work)  :ha
#4 - February 27, 2015, 08:44 AM

Olmue-- I think this is a developmental stage we go through as writers. We get better at the character complexities…and can get lost in them. :) This is what I do:

Have I written my final scene written? If not, it is time to write it. Once I have made it as emotionally powerful as possible it is time to go back through the ms for an 'emotion edit'. I pretend that emotion is a bolt of lightning and follow it through each scene. If the 'electrons' of emotion don't have a clear path through a scene, I cut it. If they do not have a clear path through a character, I cut them.

Look for a clean and powerful emotional path. That is what you want your reader to follow. That is all that is important.

:) eab



#5 - February 27, 2015, 09:05 AM

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Rose, my first novel had so many things going on, even I didn't know what beast it was turning into. I cut out the time travel. I cut out the Hindu-Muslim conflict. I cut out the political assassinations. I kept the political climate, friendships, romance and betrayal. It is now far more manageable and focused. And someday it will be a better book because of it.

You decide what you want your book to be about (and it can't be a thousand pages!). I think sometimes you have to write all the other stuff to figure out that maybe it belongs in another book. I mean, I love time travel, but it's not for this one ... :sigh

I like the idea of writing a short synopsis or sentence to focus yourself on the main idea.
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#6 - February 27, 2015, 09:55 AM
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Rose, I do that with nearly every ms I write! What helps me the most is after I've finished my huge unwieldy story, I write the plot backwards in one-line events. This helps me see threads that didn't feed directly into the climax and resolution.
#7 - February 27, 2015, 09:57 AM
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I don't know what POV you're using, but if the story were told in 1st person, what would be left out? That might give you a clue about what you don't need.
#8 - February 27, 2015, 10:08 AM

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Rose, I'm so glad you asked this! I'm struggling with my own revision, so this is really helpful.

Kersten and Vonna, your advice resonated with me! I think I'm going to do a mashup of those pieces of wisdom.  :stars3
#9 - February 27, 2015, 02:01 PM

I second combining characters. That usually forces subplots to combine as well.

You might also try asking whether any particular plot point actually affects the final outcome of the book. Sounds like an obvious thing, but sometimes I find myself surprised at how unimportant a specific plot point is that I had previously thought crucial.
#10 - February 27, 2015, 02:16 PM
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Echoing what many others have said... Consider combining characters, taking out subplots... I sent a ms out for a beta recently, and got similar feedback from two disparate readers. They felt the minor characters were too rich, too compelling, and while written well, they were stealing attention from my mc. I had never thought before about making characters less interesting, but of course it's my mc's story, and that always needs to be the main focus (at least, in a MG novel; I would argue adult novels are different stories!).
#11 - February 27, 2015, 04:16 PM
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All of this is very helpful! I don't have a lot of "duplicate" characters, but I think there are some who do not need entire plotlines all to themselves.

Olmue-- I think this is a developmental stage we go through as writers. We get better at the character complexities…and can get lost in them. :) This is what I do:

Have I written my final scene written? If not, it is time to write it. Once I have made it as emotionally powerful as possible it is time to go back through the ms for an 'emotion edit'. I pretend that emotion is a bolt of lightning and follow it through each scene. If the 'electrons' of emotion don't have a clear path through a scene, I cut it. If they do not have a clear path through a character, I cut them.

Look for a clean and powerful emotional path. That is what you want your reader to follow. That is all that is important.

Also, ^this is a brilliant way to look at it. Also Vonna's way of looking at it backwards (er, once I figure out what the right ending is). I mean, I know that I need to take out unnecessary subplots--but which ones?? There's a bit of a mystery element, and I think that some of my red herrings are leading ME astray here...
#12 - February 27, 2015, 07:07 PM

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Plot squirrels. Love it.
I have nothing to add. I'm struggling with my own revision. I don't think it's squirrels. I think it's plot boll weevils.
Reading this thread is helpful.
#13 - February 27, 2015, 07:21 PM
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Great thread. Love it.

Ree
#14 - February 27, 2015, 10:59 PM

This thread made me think of the adage, "Everything in a novel has to either advance the plot or develop character." Everything else is non-essential, which sounds too simple, but I find it useful. I like the one-sentence synopsis, too. If I have to work hard at crafting that sentence, chances are I don't know exactly what my story is about (yet).  :badidea
#15 - February 28, 2015, 06:19 AM
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I love the look at the emotional through line that Auntybooks posted.

I make a note of each scene and how it advances plot, develops character and relates to a theme of the overall work. I write the main events of the scene and put a letter next to it. T for themes, N for none, P for plot, etc. If it has an N it gets cut. If it has only one of the others, it may be cut or combined or added to. I also try to keep the word count in line with the importance of the action - so crucial elements get the words they deserve while less crucial stuff gets a fair proportion.

To find the themes, I do a one sentence synopsis. This gives me the main theme, then I look at symbolism within the work. I go back to high school and college English where we analyzed stuff I'm sure the authors never knew they were putting in. Why is the room red? Why did I use that metaphor? This makes you think about how one piece relates to the next through more than just chronology. Every scene should address as many themes as possible as well as moving the plot forward and adding to characterization - each theme could get it's own letter.

I had an article on this that stated it all much better than I did above. I can't find it in the pile of articles on the desk. I really need to clean up.

Another thought is to make sure you aren't filling time gaps with action that isn't relevant. Instead, just skip to the next scene.
#16 - March 02, 2015, 09:05 AM
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I've been thinking a lot about that emotional throughline, too. I'm critiquing a book right now that is very long, yet has great pacing because of this very thing. The emotional beats all fall in exactly the right place, with exactly  the right amount of setup before they fall. I'm really impressed, and it's making me think a lot about where those places are in my own book. There's no tea drinking or waking up in the morning or whatever in my draft--it's all actual Stuff Happening--but it doesn't all tie in to those key emotional moments. And that's what I need to think about. Sometimes I even have multiple Emotional Moments--but some of them are maybe competing with each other? Like, they aren't laid out in such a way that build momentum, but are all floating out there on their own unconnected tendrils. Like a mint plant trying to take over the yard or something. All those elements might be part of the theme or character or plot--but they can't possibly all be equally important!

Sometimes I think I'm going backwards in the whole writing development thing.
#17 - March 02, 2015, 09:22 AM

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I've been thinking a lot about that emotional throughline, too. I'm critiquing a book right now that is very long, yet has great pacing because of this very thing. The emotional beats all fall in exactly the right place, with exactly  the right amount of setup before they fall. I'm really impressed, and it's making me think a lot about where those places are in my own book. There's no tea drinking or waking up in the morning or whatever in my draft--it's all actual Stuff Happening--but it doesn't all tie in to those key emotional moments. And that's what I need to think about. Sometimes I even have multiple Emotional Moments--but some of them are maybe competing with each other? Like, they aren't laid out in such a way that build momentum, but are all floating out there on their own unconnected tendrils. Like a mint plant trying to take over the yard or something. All those elements might be part of the theme or character or plot--but they can't possibly all be equally important!

Sometimes I think I'm going backwards in the whole writing development thing.

This is some of what I'm fixing in my current draft. The plot is fine, but the emotion isn't always clear because I was trying to be too nice to the main character. I allowed him distance, allowing the reader distance. Now I'm deepening the POV and making him face it all head on, except that escape is part of the theme.

I try not to worry about those steps backward as long as more steps go forward. Keep learning. Wait until something resonates. Revise accordingly. We write something new and start learning all over again. As long as I'm not relearning the exact same stuff, I'm okay with that.
#18 - March 02, 2015, 10:29 AM
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Oh Rose -

I'm right there with you, friend. And I'm SO glad you asked this question. In my first major revision to kill the plot squirrels, I DID combine two characters - not completely - but I did let one fill the role of both and then moved the 2nd into the background of the story. So the 2nd became just another kid in the class. And the first, actually took on a richer more meaningful role. And I was able to cut an entire subplot because of it. Then, I did find one more subplot that wasn't working well for some readers, and I cut that too. It was tough but seemed necessary. I still may have too much going on.

I love the emotional throughline and working backwards exercises - I'll try those next.

Watching this thread with interest!
Jean
#19 - March 04, 2015, 03:23 PM
« Last Edit: March 26, 2015, 06:54 AM by Jean Reidy »
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Hey, Rose -- this was just the nudge I needed to realize, "Oh! I can make Character D character do what Character L was doing and eliminate Character L altogether!" And the other posts here are helpful as well. Bookmarking this thread.
#20 - March 04, 2015, 06:15 PM

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Yes! This has happened to me. I have had editors tell me in the past, "There is too much going on here," and now I am revising two of those books and can totally see what they were talking about. Too many subplots. The supporting characters and subplots need to REINFORCE THE THEME OF THE MAIN PLOT/CHARACTER, not create a separate one. If there is a separate one, too, then perhaps cull it and turn it into its own novel. Good luck! You are not alone!
#21 - March 04, 2015, 06:39 PM
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Having a bit of trouble with revising Nymphs Of Winter Fire.

For one, strongly considering switching to first person past tense. Because the entire book has happened in the past rather than the present.

Plus I'm not sure how to safely cut it down to 16,000 words. When I originally plotted it, it was originally intended to be 16,000 words. (Probably my limit, as I'm more used to short fiction.)
#22 - March 22, 2015, 05:46 PM
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Sarah -- why 16,000 words? What age group is it for, and is it a novel?

:) eab
#23 - March 22, 2015, 06:34 PM

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It could be the story needs more words than you think. Perhaps have some beta readers or critique partners look it over.
#24 - March 23, 2015, 08:17 AM
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Note sure how I could help, as when I plot I always know going in that I intend it as a story collection with the same theme that sometimes shares the same characters. And in each story I work my way backwards for each "one-shot."

It really depends on how your wanting to approach it.

What helps me, does the subplot (if you have one) stop mid stream? Can it work without that one, while maintaining some of the other subplots that complete themselves?

Also not every question needs an answer. Sometimes the world is made more real if certain plot threads unrelated to the main thread are left unresolved: you might meet the main character, have their back story, and meet their friend. But you may or may not necessarily need to know whether the friends problem is resolved conclusively. Just knowing a part of the friend's back story makes it feel more real sometimes.
#25 - April 06, 2015, 03:41 PM
« Last Edit: April 06, 2015, 03:48 PM by SarahW »
You can find my stuff at: uggc://plorephyg.bet/~fnenu/oybt.ugzy

I encounter this problem a lot. Right now I'm sitting with a cappuccino, looking at my manuscript & thinking where is the plot?
Sometimes the problem is exactly that. I get so caught up in the dilemma that I can't solve the problem & the story climax is lost.
Does that make sense?
#26 - May 03, 2015, 06:29 AM

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Fiona, that's exactly the problem I have. I get caught up in the minutia of the scene, and then realize I have lost my main plot through-line.

I've been trying to write down JUST the main plot on a separate paper and analyze it. Because if that isn't strong, then it doesn't matter what you hang on it--the tree will fall over!
#27 - May 03, 2015, 09:02 AM

The only thing that worked for me in that instance was to run...far away.
I did that with that last stinking story I wrote (not the plot, I actually quite like it).  My characters spoke too much, in my opinion. However, when I gave it to a teacher acquaintance she said that the story flowed better via conversation rather than narration. I've just been looking through it and maybe she has a point.
Maybe you should step back from the plot and interview your character. Ask them what the problem is and how they would like to resolve it. Then help them through it.
My only way of doing that was to leave it stew for a few months because I was putting pressure on myself to fix something but I didn't see what was wrong. I have found lots of niggling little bits and trying to back on track. It will happen, hopefully.
As it will with you.
#28 - May 04, 2015, 04:59 AM
« Last Edit: May 04, 2015, 09:13 AM by thunderingelephants »

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I'm glad you're finding some solutions, Fiona.

I was talking to my sister (also a writer) yesterday about our long-yet-unfinished drafts that are both suffering from this same issue. She jokingly said we should swap novels and finish each other's book. Because it's easier to see what to do when it's someone else's stuff. But we got to thinking, and actually, it IS easier to see that way. So we are swapping WIPs, not to finish, but just to observe to each other what the logical conclusion of this book should be, based on the patterns we are seeing. We are both getting too caught up in side plots and losing track of the main throughline, and hopefully this helps us see better what's already there.
#29 - May 04, 2015, 06:01 AM

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Did I ever need to read this thread today!

I'm a bit stuck with my sequel to TRAMH with only a few chapters left to write. And the comments about the emotional through-line hit the nail on the head for me. This is exactly why I think I'm struggling! The book has been a ton of fun to write, but it wanders a lot more than the first book. TRAMH was like a laser beam from beginning to end. Every plot point built on the last leading to the conclusion. But this book hasn't been so direct.  :-\

Will need to go mull a bit, I think, over what to do. Push on and write the ending as I've currently got it plotted now or revisit the beginning and search for that emotional thread and follow it through to whatever ending it leads me to?

Thanks!

Rue
#30 - June 09, 2015, 11:56 AM
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