G’day! After two months locked in the university dungeon, I’m back! While I’ve been flat out studying (on Facebook, stalking people with more interesting lives than me), I’ve had time to ponder my WIP, and I’ve had a revelation:

Stepping away from your manuscript to see the bigger picture really works – by helping you forget the little picture. That’s means forgetting your babies, and seeing the real reason why you’ve done things which might not be working out. And that, is really useful…

Firstly, the babies I’m talking about are those little moments you (perhaps unconsciously) labelled ‘pre-tension’ or ‘character development’ etc, to justify scenes which weren’t going anywhere. Specifically, they’re moments which set up other moments. See, when you’re initially plotting a novel you know you have to cause conflict by putting your characters in unpleasant situations. But if the situation is so unpleasant, whatever action characters do to get there can feel unnatural.

These scenes-to-set-up-scenes are sneaky, because they might be perfectly believable. For example you might not notice the hidden info dump behind two characters discussing some upcoming event – especially if it’s completely believable. But at a closer look, or a look from a critique partner, you might notice that essential though that set-up is, there’s no reason for it to be shown. These little scenes can really slow a novel down, but the trouble is they’re inevitable. We start plotting before we really know our characters and our world. Then during editing this all gets fleshed out, but the plot remains as our framework. The result? Filler moments getting tied up with good writing.

And that’s why I’m writing today: because I’ve thought of a couple of ways to at least hunt these suckers down. The fixing is up to you!

  • Work backwards through your plot, asking how the characters got into each situation and whether the cause was natural. You are allowed a little serendipity and co-incidence, but if you’ve ever thought “well that could happen, so no-one can criticise it,” then maybe it could be improved. Consider all the situations leading up to the iffy spot and you might find you can slip in a clue, or some rational pre-event (as long as it’s not forced, either). The best part about that is that when readers get to the event you were worried about, they’re now thinking ‘of course!’ The result is you: plotting extraordinaire.
  • Write down all the decisions your characters make to land themselves in certain situations, and scrutinise them.   Would your goodie-two-shoes MC really be persuaded to go hang out at the old mine with the hot new guy and his bad-boy friends? Be careful that your answer isn’t, “of course she would, just look at this intense emotional argument I made her have with herself about it.” Characters should change throughout the story, but if you speed up that change just to force Explain Yourself hem into something, then both bringing them back to normal later, or making them continue to act in this new manner, could feel off.
  • Go through each scene, writing its purpose in one word without stopping to think. Take note of any labelled foreshadowing, emotional development, comic relief, world-building and so on. These might just be your subconscious justifications for scenes which had a much more basic purpose – to set up other stuff.
  • Consider tension levels. Not enough? Maybe there’s just not enough going on.