Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starting Over When Your Plot Doesn't Go As Planned

Whenever I notice my plot derailing, I stop writing and backtrack through the document to determine the point where things went south. While working on a new project this summer, I realized about 100 pages in (I know -- eek) that the story hadn't started in the right place. As a result, the pieces didn't fit together in a compelling way.

I completely re-worked the beginning, and once I did that, several of the plot and characters problems seemed to take care of themselves. The problem with my beginning was that we didn't know enough about the protag, and the obstacle he first faced was someone else's dilemma, rather than his own.

By starting the story one day earlier, I was able to establish my main character as a "boy of action" with a clear objective, and that set an entirely different tone and pace for the story.

The process reminded me of that Arade Fire song, "Ready to Start."

My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start
Your mind surely opened the door
To step out into the dark
Now I'm ready 

In my experience, until you know your main character's hopes, dreams and fears inside out, it can be difficult to write about him; and knowing your main character's hopes, dreams and fears can take time (say, 100 pages of writing), at which point the plot may need to be reconfigured. Now you're ready to start.

Sarah Skilton grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated with a TV/Radio degree from Ithaca College in upstate New York before moving to sunny Los Angeles, where she's worked as a production assistant, a TV extra, a film reviewer, and a script analyst. She has also studied Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do, both of which came in handy while writing her martial arts-themed debut YA novel, BRUISED, due out Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. Check out her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page.


  1. Love that, Sarah! So good to remember. And also to know that it takes time.

  2. Thanks, Jessica. I'm a big believer in taking time to get to know characters, even though I'm also impatient to get first drafts done.