Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Plot Your Way Back from an Unruly Idea

By Kristin Durfee, @KristinDurfee

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Finding the plot in your idea can sometimes send you so far off track you lose the idea. Kristin Durfee shares tips on wrangling an idea back on track.

Kristin Durfee is the author of The Four Corners Trilogy (Black Opal Books), MASS (Orange Blossom Publishing), and Touch (Voyage Literary Journal) as well as short stories for adults appearing in several anthologies. She resides in Central Florida and when not enjoying the sun with her husband, son, and two quirky dogs, you can usually find her on a run, horseback ride, or wandering around a theme park.

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Take it away Kristin…
It happens. You get An Idea. It starts as a simple “what if…” and trails and swirls in your head into a fully formed (albeit messy) being.

You open your computer or notebook and begin writing. It’s going great…until it isn’t.

You get stuck. You get lost. The Idea starts to fade.

Don’t worry!

While I typically plot out my entire story before I start writing, there is no one-size-fits-all guide to plotting: you can do it whenever!

There are simple tips and tricks to get yourself (and your unruly Idea) back on track!

1. We’re gonna need a map!

We’ve all been there. We set out on a trip confident about where we are going, GPS coordinates plugged in, and all of a sudden, we’ve spaced out or made a wrong turn (I thought it said turn at the second left not the third!). So what do we do? Reroute!

It’s the same for your writing.

I want you to take a step back and jot down a simple blurb about your novel. What I’d find if future me flips over your published book and reads the paragraph on the back.

It doesn’t need side quests or characters, but a pretty simple “this person is trying to succeed in this goal or x, y, and z will happen.”

(Here’s more with This Query On? Identifying Problems in a Novel)

2. Okay, maybe we need an atlas….

Next, I want you to expand on your blurb and write a summary. Oh the dreaded summary! The bane of a writer’s existence. But guess what? You’re going to get it out of the way first. So when you’re finished with your novel and preparing to send it to agents, you’ve already got a pretty good frame work. Yay past self for helping future self!

Your summary should be more detailed but no need to get crazy. Shoot for 2 to 4 pages. Try to hit your story beats and side quests here. Consider how the story will end, even if you write something vague like “she’s able to somehow get the sword and yadda yadda magic, saves the world!”. At this point it doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you know where you’re going.

At this point you may be energized enough to hop right back into your story and get to work. You know where you’re going and if you get lost in the future, you can refer to your summary to get yourself back on track.

Still feel a little overwhelmed and lost? That’s okay too! Let’s dive a bit deeper.

(Here’s more with The Sum of the Parts: Writing a Synopsis)

3. We’re gonna need turn-by-turn directions…

Consider doing a full-on outline. This can be major scenes/beats or even chapter by chapter. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life is sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Taking that bit of extra time now while you’re still figuring your story out not only will give you the confidence to realize you do have a fully-fledged story, but also may make you realize the story isn’t what you thought it was after all, and that’s okay! Running a bit short? Maybe it’s a novella or short story. Running George R.R. Martin long? Maybe you’ve got a trilogy or series on your hand.

The important thing is you can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you are going!

Take the time to outline the chapters you’ve already written and compare it to your summary to see where you are in the story, then start adding to where it will end up. As you get back to writing, your outline and summary may shift and change, don’t worry! That’s part of the magic of a story and the frustration when the characters hijack it 😉 Just update your notes accordingly, adjust if you need to, and keep going.

(Here’s more with Are You In or Out? Crafting Outlines That Work for You)

Writing a novel, like doing a cross county road trip, can be stressful and feel daunting, but with the right map (and like, a lot of snacks), you can successfully get to where you want to be--a completed draft! And don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the scenery every now and then, the journey is half the fun!

About MASS

Sixteen-year-old Stevie Albie is a religious person, but nothing prepares her for meeting Mary. Like the Mary, mother of Jesus. Just as Stevie becomes convinced she has a special connection with God, doctors discover a brain tumor in her frontal lobe they claim is causing the hallucinations.

Her parents insist on removing the tumor as quickly as possible, but Stevie isn’t so sure. Feeling special for the first time in her life, she runs away to a religious cult that’s convinced her visions are their salvation and vow to protect her. But as time goes on she suspects they have their own agenda. Torn on who to trust, Stevie wonders if she'll have to choose: her visions or her future?