when it all goes pear-shaped

Here’s another NaNo post.

Various people around the internet have added their voice to the advice of what to do when the novel you’re writing goes off-track. Here’s a sample

And this is my approach, added here to give different strategies, because there is not one that will work for everybody.

Invariably, all my novels go off-track during early drafts. I’m a pants writer, and that’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes off-track doesn’t end up being as much off-track as you thought. The question is how far are you going to let it flounder before you recognise the problem. For me, that’s increasingly less far. I try to nip the problem in the bud before I write too much. I always try to project the effects of a particular scene further down in the novel. But still, sometimes things go pear-shaped.

In that case, I stop writing immediately (and to hell with mandatory word count goals).

I grab a notebook and sketch out the plot as I’ve got, and as projected. I write down character motivations and conflicts. Often, I’ll find that conflicts don’t align. For example, a heroine wants something, but what the antagonist wants is not directly opposed. Sometime I find that I’ve got simply too many things going on at the same time. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is usually the best approach. Choose your conflict and deal with it in depth.

It might mean the depth is still lacking from the conflict. I don’t *quite* know what’s going on yet, or why, or what the consequences are. In that case, I will move my backside to Wikipedia and start reading about the subject of the conflict. This process, besides landing me with inordinate amounts of physics and chemistry, usually ends up giving me specific ideas that slot into the story as I’ve already written, or that could be made to fit with some alterations.

Now I start with an empty file. For me, this is a vitally important part of the process. The empty file is a blank page. It’s not filled with words to which I may feel attachment because I liked them so much, never mind that they don’t fit in the plot. I start copying scenes from the old draft only when I decide those scenes should go in the new draft. Sometimes scenes need to be rewritten or changed. I do that after I copy them, one by one, so that the new draft will reflect the tighter storyline.

I may need to repeat this process two or three times.


4 comments on “when it all goes pear-shaped

  1. Seems a fairly logical way to go about things. I really hate restarting a draft half-way through – I personally prefer to change direction, act on my new plan, and then return to the opening chapters and fix them later. But that often gets badly tangled… and my understanding of maintaining conflict is only basic at best.

    • that’s why I said that not every method will suit everyone. Personally, I’m the *fix it NOW* type of person, but other people will feel differently.

    • selling writing? It’s pretty simple: Submit, submit, submit. Never assume you have a chance (that way, rejection won’t be so painful), ignore, celebrate or collect rejections. Write some more, submit that, too.

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