Lessons From My WIP, Part 1: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Alright, picture this: It’s that fateful day when you sit down with the grand scheme to your current work-in-progress, and you realize, “I’ve got so many awesome things in this story that it’s… actually kind of incoherent.” I think it happens to everyone at least once. It most definitely happened to me.

It seems the next question is, what caused this? And better yet, how do you fix it?

I like to call this the ‘Plot While You Still Can’ Phenomenon. It’s usually seen in writers working on their first novel, and it usually only manifests once they’re in too deep to see it coming. The thought process behind it is something like this: Your mind a spring, no, a geyser of amazing ideas. Ideas that wow you and send shivers down your spine, ideas that invade your dreams and, you guessed it, find their way into your novel’s plot outline. Why? Because frankly, this may be the only chance you get. This first novel needs to be absolutely fantastic so that a publisher will snap it right up, you say, so you’re going to give it everything you’ve got.

But what’s wrong with that?

A novel, by nature, has a central plot. Just one. Depending on the genre, length, and a variety of other factors, it might have a handful of sub-plots too, but each of these sub-plots factors into the grand scheme of the overarching plot in some way or another. This is called coherency, and without it, the best case scenario has your reader wondering if you (or they) are on some sort of recreational drug.

Manuscripts written by those who’ve fallen prey to the ‘Plot While You Still Can’ Phenomenon all have that in common: They lack coherency. Characters go on wild sidequests so the writer can show some previously unknown facet of their character, or a freak-of-the-week type villain wanders onto the scene just because the author was enthusiastic about his character design. Whatever the product is, 99% of the time it reads like a roller coaster in reverse–that is, jarringly disorganized. (Another side effect is that the manuscript tends to be three times as long as it really needs to be, but that’s a different matter.)

So how do you fix it? How do you pull your manuscript out of this unique sort of rut?

  1.  Take a step back. Right now, you’re probably much too attached to your characters and what you’ve established of the plot to really view it objectively. Set the manuscript aside for a week, or maybe even two. When you pick it up again, you’ll be able to look at the issue with fresh eyes.
  2. Analyze each sub-plot or plot element. Ask yourself, ‘Is this event truly necessary?’ If so, then ask yourself, ‘How can this event serve a dual purpose and further the plot overall?’ The more you can tie each event and scene into everything else that’s going on, the more coherent the manuscript will become.
  3. Analyze each character. Again, ask yourself, ‘Is this character truly necessary? Or can their purpose be served by another of the characters?’ You’ll be surprised who you’re able to cut, in the end.
  4. Remember that this isn’t your only book. It may not even be the only book in the series. You don’t have to lay all of your cards on the table right away. Save some for the sequel, or if they don’t fit quite right there either, slip it into a different work.

—————

Meanwhile, I’m shocked by the number of hits Something from Nothing has gotten already. Just a note: I’m still setting things up. I know the sidebar’s disorganized, my info page is empty, and a plethora of other ways this blog is a little lacking, but I promise, I’m getting there.

Morgan Bishop, signing out.

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