Writing tips: Plotting

Hey everyone,

As I wrote The Found Child, I spent a lot of time thinking about different plots. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to get Shelby from Point A to Point B, but, at first, had no idea how to do that. I needed plots and subplots that would fit with her character, fit with her history, be suspenseful, and make sense to the reader.

When I first started working on the book several years ago, I spent months hashing out the general storyline. I had a few basics I wanted to stick with: a Santa Cruz County-based setting. Shelby as a fully-accredited private investigator. Shelby as a small business owner. Shelby as a good sister, involved in her brother’s life. And, in order to create internal tension, I wanted Shelby to be struggling in her home life. I also knew that Shelby’s story had to come full circle (that’s all I say on that topic, I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t read it yet.)

Once I found my plot and got started, I also added and discarded subplots. I imagine this happens to every writer; you go down one path and find that it doesn’t work, have to backtrack, and take out all references to those actions. Of course, the problem is that remnants of old subplots get left in and missed on subsequent reads. For example, a phone call that’s critical in one version of the manuscript but makes no sense in another. An assumption Shelby makes, based on a conversation that was removed from a subsequent version manuscript. And so on.

I didn’t have the luxury of a continuity editor (what a fun job that would be), and, as these subplot changes came as I was deep into writing the manuscript, I often found myself at a loss as to how to track everything that was added or discarded. I didn’t come up with a good system at the time, but on reflection came up with an idea that might help. A simple tip just in time for NaNoWriMo!

Each time you think to yourself, “Wow, that’s a great plot twist,” take a few minutes to open up a spreadsheet, write down the manuscript version, the chapter, and the idea. Write down the characters involved, their actions, and the areas of the manuscript that need to be fleshed out to make this plot twist work. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just enough to jog your memory. Just enough for you to be able to trace back and forth to figure out what you did. Believe me, I wish I’d done that as I was writing. It would have saved me a lot of time in the final edits.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Nancy

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