Twofer Tuesday: PLOT and thickening it up with action while thinning out the crapola

Since I've been taking more time out from life to write as opposed to blog and bloghop, it'll come as no surprise that more of my posts have been and will be about my writing ups and downs.  And since I'm still relatively new to this writing thing, most of the amaaaazing writing advice I can offer you needs to come from alternative sources like the ones I've linked to below.  However, I can at least use my writing woes and "ah ha" moments to share the lessons I've learned and hope they can serve some purpose to you in your writing.

And now I'll get on with it.

While there are many challenges involved in writing a novel (no, not just any novel...a novel that will get published and read by millions, of course), the one I'd like to discuss with you today is *drumroll pleeeease*

Yes.  I'm talking about the what-the-heck-happens-in-your-book-and-to-your-characters-that-will-make-me-want-to-read-the-dang-thing thing because that is what I've been struggling with this week.  While editing and revising no less.  If you're thinking it's a little late to be going round and round in those plotty circles at this late stage in the game, you're not alone.  I'm right there with you.  BUT, when you cut 70k from a novel that you've been writing for a year and a half like I have, you'd understand that plot issues can arise when chopping a full length novel from your novel.

Here's the helpful part of the post:

First, I'd like to draw your attention to a recent blogpost by Janice Hardy @ The Other Side of the Story
One of my favorite lines from the post is "Story is, but plot does."  She also talks about how to move your plot along.  Great advice and worth a read.

Another, post I just found by Stina Lindenblatt at Seeing Creative was also on plot and about creating layers within your plot(s).  She writes about creating a multidimensional plot while also tying all those pieces together.  She also recommends a great writing workbook to help you out.

(This next part is all me and the questions that arose while working through my plot issues this week either alone or via email with erica.)
Next, think about this.  What moves the plot along?  External conflict?  Internal conflict?  Basically, the problem, right?  Then, how do you (the writer choose to) move it along? 

(This HOW is the tough part because plot can get bogged down by unnecessary actions and details.  I, for one, struggled with "bridging" issues.  I felt like I needed these HUUUUGE scenes in between my "real" scenes...the action.  So the 70k I cut was pretty much as all the bridge scenes that took me from one necessary plot event to another.  Now I'm left with ONLY the real plot of my story, except a few that I need to add in:  plot holes.  We'll talk about that another time.)

So moving plot along...

Through the use of dialogue.  Great, but be careful!  This is also one way to clutter plot and thicken it up with unnecessary words.  ONLY write dialogue that has a purpose.  How do you know when to use dialogue and when to use narrative?  No, really, I'm asking YOU.  thoughts/advice????

Recently I had this same debate going between "when to use self-talk and when to use narrative".  Maybe the answer is mainly the same.  What would come naturally?  (But not tooooo naturally.)  You've all read plenty of posts, I'm sure, on not having a scene where the characters greet one another and ask how the other is doing and talk about what they had for breakfast.  Boring.  AND, I'm certain those lines have NOTHING to do with the plot.  So...don't go there.

The use of setting and moving the plot along:  Does the place the character enters make it inevitable for the plot to move forward?  Just because your character is a fifteen year old and it's a Monday morning doesn't mean they have to be in school.  Unless that's where they need to be for the plot to be carried out. Otherwise, figure out a way to get them to the action.  Change the day or GET THEM OUT OF THEIR ROUTINE.  Don't waste pages on showing the reader their daily life BEFORE the plot occurs.  Just do it.  Tell the story.  The reader doesn't need to know how they lived life for the first fifteen years of life.  (NOT trying to be preachy...THIS was where MY biggest problem was and why I needed to eliminate 70k! yes, the bridge scenes.)

Does your character have/need an information source?  Does your character watch the news, read an article, get a text, observe a crime, overhear a conversation, have a gossipy best friend?  How does your character learn information that makes them do something to move the plot along?  WHAT TERRIBLE THING HAPPENED AND HOW DID THEY LEARN ABOUT IT?  and of course, what will they do now?  run?  plan to solve the problem?  (okay, now I feel like I'm planning a writing lesson for my second graders.  sorry about that.  switched from writer mode to teacher mode.)

Do your characters quirks add to the plot or a subplot?  Does your character have a quirk that constantly gets them into trouble?  Are they insanely curious, clumsy, scatterbrained, oblivious, studious, etc? 

Is the "bad girl/guy" or the villain the catalyst for your plot?  What do they do to your poor character and how does your character handle it? 
Last,  (and on a completely different note) how do you use your chapter endings?  THIS is one of my main concerns right now.  I don't know how to address it.  Part of my thinks I should leave out ALL chapter indicators (numbers for me) until the whole manuscript is done, then I can go back in and put them where they'd fit best.  AND....WHERE MIGHT THAT BE?  The first time I wrote my WIP I tied every single chapter up with a big nice fluffy bow and each chapter felt resolved.  Didn't that defeat the purpose?  If my reader is feeling satisfied, why would they turn the page?  Duh.  (I'd think it was a no-brainer, too, except, uh, that some of my chapters still seem to end up that way.)  I also "counted pages" so that each was about the same number of pages long.  Yeah, that doesn't always allow for a suspenseful chapter ending either.  WHAT DO YOU DO?  ARE ALL OF YOUR CHAPTER ENDINGS CLIFFHANGERS?  HOW WIDELY DO YOUR CHAPTER LENGTHS VARY?



  1. Oooh you've been thinking about a lot.

    I love dialogue. It tends to sneak into my story without me thinking about it. Still... I find that dialogue pops up to:
    1) give a show of character
    2) drop in bits of information that would take pages and pages of backstory narration otherwise. This has to be done carefully though.

    Quirks-wise, my entire characters clash with each other, leading to huge issues later on. ^_^

    I write my chapters like that too. In fact, I write by scene. Some scenes will take up entire chapters. Others won't. But right now, I'm more worried about getting the story down.


  2. Wait. You're saying something has to actually happen in my novel? Crap. I'm screwed.

  3. Oh, plot. Sigh. Well, I can comment about chapter endings - I always try to end with a little bit of a cliffhanger, something to make a reader want to turn the page.

    Good luck working through your plot!

  4. Ooo...I really needed this post. I drowning in plot worries with my WIP at the moment. Thank you for all the excellent advice!

  5. Excellent post, Christy.

    First, let me congratulate on the wonderful and insightful job you are doing on your editing....

    You've made some very valid point on plot, and I made MANY of the same mistakes you did on your novel with my first novel.

    As for chapter endings, I try to leave with some sort of cliff hanger, but you can't always do that. In my opinion, if the majority of endings are cliff you're good. An occasional tied-up-in-a-bow chapter can be fine. You have to put the book down sometime. Right?

    My chapter lengths vary, but usually between two or three pages of each other. I might have one longer one here and there if there's lots of action.

    I hope this is helpful. Good luck on the rest of your edit.


  6. I'm with Matt - what plot, what action? I write contemporary romance, darn it, it's about the characters... *sigh*

    Yeah, I started noticing all my chapters ended with my mc going to bed and reflecting on how great her life was turning out to be...gah!! Now I do have a few cliffhangers and such to try to get you to turn the page, but they definitely aren't the same length - as short as 5 pages and as long as 17 or so.

  7. Chapter endings is something I'm working hard on right now because I know I need to improve there. I'm trying to make the end of the chapter leave a question, leave the reader wanting to know something.

  8. Hi Christy. I'm enjoying your writerly posts (just caught up on a couple of weeks!). You've certainly cut your WIP drastically! There's no easy edit is there? Good luck with that! I need to get to it more.

    Last Pub Party this week. Hope you can pay a visit. New post up later today.


  9. Did you seriously cut 70K from your draft?

  10. 70K! No wonder you've got holes. Help me out here. Isn't there a chance that would change the whole plot?
    I try to stop a chapter in a way that won't stop the reader.
    Very good post.

  11. I love this line: Story is, but plot does - That's awesome!!!

    I tend to write from the pov of 2 characters (male & female leads - everything I write has some romance in it!) so the chapters happen when I change pov. The female chapters tend to be longer ... hmmm :)

  12. I just spewed milk over my computer screen after reading Matt's comment. ;)

    Can't wait to read your post on the dialogue and narrative dilemma (hint hint). I'm stuck on that, too. :P

  13. Sigh... I have such a hard time with dialog. (Well, everything else, too, but one moan at a time.) I write a lot of it because I need practise, and I try to make it sound like real-life conversation (which means they can't sound like me, because I'm a weirdo), and then I have to cut 3/4ths of it out because one doesn't write everything down that one would say in actual life.

    All that to say, Good luck!


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