Lost the Plot

June 12, 2010 at 5:35 am (Death's Daughter, Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


Character, plot and setting.

All three are vitally important to the story.  Usually I like to focus on character but today I think I’m going to have a quick look at plot.

Plot is one of those tricky things because you would think, to make a plot interesting, that is needed to be fresh and new and complex and twist and turn and all of those other splediferous (yes, I know it isn’t a real word) things plots can do. Yet simple is sometimes much better.

So many times you read the advice that you should be able to explain what your story is about in a single sentence. An entire novel boiled down to one sentence that explains the whole point for the story. For Death’s Daughter this caused me no end of headaches because I didn’t figure this part out before I wrote the story. I wrote the story and then asked what it was about would rattle off a bunch of things that Calandra (my protagonist) did but I didn’t really get to the point. What I finally came up with was this:

A girl, cheated of her chosen destiny by forces beyond her understanding, must find a way to end a war between gods and discover the truth about who she is.

Once I knew this about the story, I could see how I had distractions and how some of the sub-plots weren’t working and I just found it much easier to work through the story because I knew exactly what the story was about.

Keeping in mind how much easier working with plot was once I knew what the plot was meant to be, I decided that for my next project I would start out with a simple statement of what I wanted the story to be and work from there. Admittedly, I haven’t even finished the first draft and I already know that what I decided the main point of my story was, isn’t. I’ve gone down a totally different track at this point but I know that once I finish this draft, I will be able to say in a single sentence what the point of my story is and I’ll be able to edit with that in mind.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on plot and how you go about crafting one.

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21 Comments

  1. imotherofpearl said,

    I have also heard that advice about ‘the sentence’ – I remember reading about it in the snowflake method as well as in Holly Lisle’s writing classes. I also constructed a sentence for my work in progress:
    The last Valkyrie must travel the nine worlds to win her freedom from a master rune-mage and find her place in the twenty first century.
    It does a great job of keeping me on track.

  2. davidburtonwriting said,

    I know the beginning, 2-3 points in the middle, and the end. As long as I work from one point to the other it keeps me on track. In screenplay writing that sentence is called a logline. Print it out in big letters and tape it over your desk. That helps.

  3. Jenny said,

    I actually think that makes sense. That way you can ensure that every scene in the book is serving the intended plot. It would help keep you on track. I may give that one a whirl.

  4. catwoods said,

    I just write.

    I know where I start and mostly where I want to finish and then I type. But sometimes even the ending surprises me.

    Molding my manuscript into one sentence is something I can do fairly easily. Making it a compelling sentence is a whole ‘nother story!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I have to admit, during the first draft I find a lot of things that I type surprise me. Some are really good surprises while others, I just wonder what kind of a mood I was in when I wrote it.

  5. Amparo Ortiz said,

    I’m with catwoods–I write from the hip, learning more about the story as I go. Sometimes I flesh out an entire plot before I start writing, but it rarely stays the same.

    Also, I love your pitch! I’d definitely read that book 😀

  6. laurelrainsnow said,

    I remember that my publishing consultant calls it the “elevator pitch,” and it’s a great way to focus.

    I need to do that with my current WIP, as I’m kind of at a crossroads, not knowing how to tie up the loose ends and close the manuscript’s first draft.

  7. AlexJ said,

    I guess I envision a beginning and ending first and then the plot becomes how I get from point A to point B. And I can sum up my book in one line, so I guess I better make sure I can do the same for my current project.

  8. Carol J. Garvin said,

    My stories always seem to start with a single image so I have to evaluate what that’s telling me before I have a plot. Most times my writing process turns out to be a method half way between plotting and pantsing… a loose plan that doesn’t tie me down but provides basic direction. So coming up with a logline puts a light at the end of the tunnel… something to aim for. The destination often turns out to be different than I expected and I revise the logline to reflect the change. As Catwoods says, refining it so that it’s a useful tool is the hard part.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      We all seem to need that basic direction before we start – based on the comments here.

  9. Marlene said,

    I usually have several scenes in mind. Once I’ve got those written down, it behooves me to figure out what’s going on. The one-sentence idea is a good one. Hard to do, especially since I tend to have ensemble casts and many subplots. There’s always a main character, though, and it helps to focus the plot by having the tag-line be about that character.

  10. Alex Willging said,

    After four years of rewriting one story over and over, I realize how important it is to have a clear vision of the plot beforehand. My current WIP is the first story for which I’ve ever written an outline, but it does help me figure out what a scene needs when I write out, whether to foreshadow something yet to come or wrap up an earlier plot point. But for any story, I can usually see the beginning and the end, so the tricky bit for me has always been how to bring the two together in the best way possible.

  11. Miss Rosemary said,

    my plots are so complicated. I’m going to work on your one sentence thing, and hopefully that will help 🙂

  12. Southpaw said,

    I agree to have that simple knowledge of plot summed up in a sentence or two really helps define my writing, but it still allows me to veer from strict structure and allow the story to develop naturally.

  13. Jackee said,

    Great post! I agree, writing a one sentence summary helps me stay focused, as does prewriting a query for the manuscript and showing it visually, with the main line being the main plot and the sub plots peeling off from there.

    Thanks for visiting my blog so that I could find your wonderful one!

  14. Suzie said,

    I heard about that “one sentence” bit from the snowflake method, but I could never get it to work for me. Like you, my story turned into something COMPLETELY different then what it started out as. But it works great for getting me started.

    On my newest WIP I’ve actually started with Character Development (which is new to me. I usually get into the deep CD once I’ve gotten my plot’s direction developed fairly well). And I have to say, I’m liking developing my characters first way better. Now I have a better understanding of what obstacles to throw at which character. Much, much funnier – for me, anyways!! 🙂

  15. Helen Ginger said,

    I think very few of us write that one sentence before we begin to write, but it would be so helpful if we could get that written down and always foremost in our minds, I think.

    I very much like your “one sentence.”

    Straight From Hel

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks Helen.
      I’ve been thinking about what my one sentence is for my current WIP but haven’t yet sorted it out. I think things will go better once I know what I’m trying to achieve.

  16. David Burton said,

    I said before that printing out your logline and taping it above your desk would be a big help. I’m working on a screenplay now, 3 drafts at least, that isn’t working. Reading through all the posts I finally realized that the logline I have is crap and doesn’t tell me what the real story is and is therefore usless, and that’s why the script isn’t working. So back to scene one, line one and figure out exactly what I’m trying to accomplish in this story.
    Which should help, don’t you think?

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think it will help. I find that when my plot is going nowhere it is because I don’t know what I want from it.

  17. Writer Links – Characters, Characters, and More Characters « Leith Literary said,

    […] Cassandra Jade dishes up a buffet of goodness, including: ♥ the importance of character mannerisms, ♥ the five reasons she will read your writer blog, ♥ another look at Bowl of Oranges’ hilarious ways to annoy a rookie writer, ♥ what makes even a derivative plot interesting, and ♥ how to clarify your plot by reducing it to a single sentence. […]

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