Plotting Detours

What do you do when you have a story plotted, you put in all that pre-writing time and energy, then as you’re writing it you realize it just doesn’t zing?  Or that writing to a tight plot drains your joy and stifles your voice?

Detour, of course!

If a story isn’t working, no matter how much time or energy or research you put into it in the planning stages, it simply isn’t working.  Plotting and planning are great tools, but they shouldn’t be a cage that your story has to live within.  If the plans and plot aren’t working, then change them.

But first… (What?  You didn’t think I was going to make it that easy, did you?)  Make sure your plot is the issue before you change it.  Don’t detour just for the sake of the particular road you’re on boring you (unless you have plenty of time to meander, in which case, detour away, my friend.)   Take a look at what isn’t working for you. Why does the story not flow? Is it a character issue? Are you missing plot elements or a compelling motivational conflict?  Are you writing yourself in circles because you don’t quite know what your characters need to do next – or does the direction your plot takes you next feel all kinds of wrong?

Here are my three pre-detour tips:

  • Print out your story, as you’ve written it so far, and read it through.  On paper.  Yes, on paper, not on the screen.  Read it through once as a reader.  Then read it again and make notes in the margins, circle the things that don’t work for you and put little smiley faces next to the things that do.  Then read your notes – it’s quite likely you’ll have found what doesn’t work within them.
  • Have your critique partner or beta readers or a trusted friend read through what you have so far.  Don’t tell them that you’re not happy with it–or if you simply have to, don’t tell them why.  See what doesn’t work for them, what jumps out as an issue.  Is it the same thing that doesn’t work for you?
  • Write a short vignette with your characters, a year after your story takes place. What are they like? What happened?  How dod they get there?  Simply let your sub-conscious lead the way with this exercise, don’t over think it (or if you can help it, don’t think at all.  Just do some stream of conscious writing).  Then set that aside for an hour, maybe two. Go take a nap, get a massage, eat chocolate. Then come back to it and see if it jives with the story you’re writing.  Does it give you any insights into what isn’t working you, and why?

After you’ve tried any, all, or none if you prefer, of these tips, go for it. Detour.  Try a different plot, change up the characters, shuffle it up and go in a different direction.

After all, if we’re not loving the story, its doubtful our readers will either.