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Beheading the hydra: plot through lines

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So, what are your best battle strategies for lopping off hydra heads and keeping your plot throughline strong? I seem to get about 30K in and it turns into a Choose Your Own Adventure book (which is NOT what I'm trying to write). Any good resources you can recommend to JUST focus on keeping that strong? I have the Save the Cat book, but I haven't been able to fit a story of mine into that exact outline.

Alternate questions:

If you have done critiques before and wished that SOMEONE in the pile would have a strong plot through-line, what kinds of things were you longing for? What kinds of things did you throw darts at and wish the writer would just amputate and be done with?

What things do you think authors are scared of that make them shy away from going at the main plot in full berserker mode? How do you fight down that inclination to avoid the main plot/tension?
#1 - September 09, 2015, 09:10 AM

I wish I had the secret to this!

One idea is to consider whether the main character is working through obstacles or complications. I think obstacles can make for more branches because you're throwing hardships at your character that aren't necessarily connected to each other or to the main character's inner problems. Complications usually happen when the main problem itself is compounding, usually because the main character is reluctant to face those inner issues that connect to the main problem.

I'm interested to hear what everyone else has to say on this because I'm a pantster, not a plotter, and that can mean unwieldy plots that are really difficult to revise.
#2 - September 09, 2015, 09:29 AM
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Oh, I like looking at it as obstacles vs. complications! The complications are the character's "fault" and the obstacles can be random (or at least not mc-generated).

And yes, I'm a pantser. I'm sure that plotters are like, you stupidhead! Lay out the whole plot first and you won't have any problems! But I have tried a million times and can't plot/outline until I get deep enough into the story. (I'm good at revising, though!)
#3 - September 09, 2015, 09:37 AM

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As long as you are willing to cut those "hydra heads" in the end, I think it's a good thing. For me, they do serve a purpose. It's like dating. Sometimes you have to date the ones who don't "work" in order to recognize the one who does.

Most recently I've had to go through my wip and ask myself:

Does this character have a role in the final climax? 
Does this plot-line (including subplots) have anything to do with the final climax?

It takes a lot of work to "analyze" each chapter and character in this way, but to me it's well worth it. I started cutting or reworking, depending on the character or the subplot. Every character, and every chapter must serve the final few chapters, so that it all connects in the end. I think that's especially important in middle grade where the reader really wants a satisfying conclusion.



#4 - September 09, 2015, 09:58 AM
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I always struggle to figure out which threads are "hydra heads" and which are the ones to keep. In my current revision, I'm doing the emotional satisfaction check. Which plot moves strike me as most emotionally rewarding? Those stay. The others go. 

Sometimes that's an easy choice, but more often I'm not sure which thread will seem most rewarding to readers. In that case I compare my messy scenes to elements of the hero's journey and sort of bend them toward the proven forms. I'm no good at following formulas in my first drafts, so I don't plan my novels out according to any one storytelling theory (kinda wish I could, but it never works for me). But those archetypal patterns in literature must exist for a reason. When in doubt, I aim in their direction.
#5 - September 09, 2015, 10:34 AM
Twitter: @MelissaKoosmann

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Hmmm, I think this is the peril of the first draft, which I actually do not number but instead call the exploratory draft. As Ena said, sometimes you have to explore the other possibilities before you realize it's going nowhere.

I have no answer to your question except to suggest outlining a bit ... do you know where it's going to end and some of the major things that happen along the way? Tell yourself the story without fleshing out all the scenes, like when a 5-yr-old tells a story ... and this happened, then that and because of it, this, etc.

Good luck, Vijaya
#6 - September 09, 2015, 10:43 AM
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I believe it was YA author John Ritter who said books should have a Person with Problems and Plans. The first manuscript I wrote had a a weak through-line. It had an interesting character (Person) with conflicts (Problem), but no plans. Once I got him planning to tackle his problems, the through-line improved and the manuscript (Storky) sold.

I also found The Snowflake Method (Google it, if you're not familiar with it) very useful in constructing scenes that flowed well. I believe the structure is roughly:
Dilemna --> Reaction -->  Decision --> Action--> Bigger Dilemna --> Reaction, etc. (ARGH! Why is spell-check trying to make me write "dilemma?")
#7 - September 09, 2015, 02:26 PM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

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(ARGH! Why is spell-check trying to make me write "dilemma?")

Because that's the correct spelling.  :whistle (Every once in a while autocorrect gets one right.)
#8 - September 09, 2015, 05:06 PM
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Try writing the key elements (the very essential ones) of your plot on a post it note and stick it to your computer. It may sound silly, but it's always helped me to stay on track (especially now, I'm in a pantser phase).

Good luck with your writing, Rose! :)
#9 - September 10, 2015, 07:50 AM

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I have the opposite problem, Rose. Plotting is difficult for me and i struggle to come up with enough heads to give the Hydra breath.

I enjoy a complicated plot with twists and turns, but I want each twist and turn to feel natural (even if unexpected) and organic to the driving concept of the book. This concept can be character or plot driven, but I really don't like it when something is thrown into the mix just to be clever. Any red herrings need to be organic, too. I don't like to see aliens landing for no apparent reason other than to distract me.

I also don't like it when a plot point feels contrived. It's got to grow out of earlier actions.

Just my  :2cents
#10 - September 10, 2015, 11:16 AM
« Last Edit: September 10, 2015, 11:24 AM by Pons »

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I'm right there with you, at the moment.
Working my way through a plot maze in the middle and later half of my ms.
As a fellow early draft panster, I've realized that the best strategy for me is to have some solid idea of the end point, and a very harsh standard of what gets to stay. Especially with a bunch of varying threads all winding toward the same point, I try to make sure I'm showing the most interesting part of the story. (because I tend to overwrite, and include things that really aren't relevant to the plot, and are probably only interesting to me.) On more than one occasion I've ditched a scene I love because I realized that the fun stuff was happening somewhere else at the time. 
#11 - September 11, 2015, 08:33 AM

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I ask questions: Does the character change because of this? If I remove it, will the story still make sense?

If the story flows without it and the character doesn't change, it goes. Every scene has to have impact on the character or plot, both is better. Any scene that impact neither gets cut. Any that impacts one could be cut or strengthened. Sometimes elements need to be combined.

I do this with characters too. Can one person accomplish what two are? Combine them. Some of those cuts hurt, but scars are drama, scars are good fiction.
#12 - October 05, 2015, 03:13 PM
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