Posted in basics of plot, free writing, how to write, novel writing, plot, plotting, plotting a novel, plotting a story, scrivener, story structure, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

5 Ways to Untangle Plot

This is a subject I haven’t talked about much lately, but it’s certainly been on my mind as I work through the third draft of Blood Feud. The twists and turns my story takes sometimes even baffles me. I then wonder if that’s a good thing. Maybe this story is getting too complicated, or maybe I just haven’t thought things through enough. So then I go back to the drawing board to see how to untangle the twisty plot strings, and hope I don’t make an even bigger mess. Sound familiar?

Or how about a plot that sounded really good at first, but then a little ways into the story realization hits and that neat idea doesn’t work like it was supposed to? Yeah, I’ve had that problem. Or how about that plot that started out in a frenzy, but now doesn’t have any get up and go? Yep, I’ve been there too. Plot seems to have a mind of its own. It works some days and other days it decides to take a vacation. Sometimes it takes an extended vacation like weeks or months. And all I want is to stop using my messed up or missing plot as an excuse to not write, but how can I do that when I keep getting whacked in the face with plot barriers that seem to come from nowhere?

Well, here are 5 things I have discovered (over many years of trial and error) that help with untangling messy plot or to get around those annoying plot barriers…

1. Free write. So much can be discovered or understood just by this one simple tool. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s easily the most powerful (and most ignored) thing a writer can do. Just write. Write for 10, 15, 20 minutes or longer, or however long it takes to break through the ice freezing up the ideas. Sometimes it takes multiple free writing sessions. I once had to do free writing for a week before I figured out a certain plot angle, but I finally did it, and it felt so good to finally get there all on my own.

2. Time. Time is a writer’s best friend, really it is. Time gives the subconscious a chance to work out difficult problems. I can’t tell you how many times I finally gave up on a certain plot point and moved on to either another section of the story or another story all together, and then when I least expected it, the answer came to me like a flash of light. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens, and the excitement of discovery usually throws me into a writing frenzy for the next several weeks, or months.

3. Friends. Another great way to work through plot problems is to talk it out to a friend, preferably a writing friend or a person who is an avid reader. There’s a saying that two heads are better than one. It’s true. What one person can’t see, another picks up on immediately. An impassible dark passage becomes an easy hiking trail when another prospective lights the way.

4. Outline. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting it down on paper to see all of the plot at once. Make a map of the story (two or three sentences of the major plot points will do). Spread it out on multiple sheets of paper if need be. Link the pieces together. See if they fit or don’t fit. The point it to get the basics of the story down to view it as a whole. Then notice where the plot holes are and work to fill them. Some people use index card to do this and others use poster board and post it notes. I’ve done both ways. I happen to like the poster board the best. Also, some really great outlining software comes in handy too. I use Scrivener, but I hear Outliner works well too.

5.  Learn. Plot is something that is learned. Complicated plot (the kind that works and makes senses) takes even longer to learn. Sometimes plot doesn’t work, because the knowledge to make it work doesn’t exist within the person creating the plot. That’s when writing classes, books, and workshops come in handy. I can’t tell you how many books on plot I have purchased and read over the years. I’ve taken just as many classes and workshops on plot too. By far the best help I’ve ever found in plotting are the fiction novels and stories I’ve read in my spare time. By reading what others have done, I too learned. Also the book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (the workbook, not the book) by Donald Mass has become my constant plotting companion.

These tools have all helped me past plotting hurtles at one time or another. Sometimes I use just one and that’s all it takes, sometimes I use a few, and sometimes it takes all five to get past a particularly difficult barrier.

Plot is different for everyone in how a person works through it and manages ideas. The best thing I’ve learned is to never give up. If it gets too much and you can’t seem to move past a certain point no matter what you do, let it be and find something else to work on for a while. If the story is truly meant to be, it will happen. Don’t let one story, one plot problem stall your writing all together. Writing is about the experience, and if the experience isn’t fun anymore it wears down the desire to write. Don’t let your desire to write be crushed under the weight of plot. Life is too short.

Do you have a different way to break through plot barriers? Please feel free to comment below and share.

Posted in Boosting Creativity, focused freewriting, free writing, learning to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing practice

More on Focused Free Writing

As I already discussed in The Amazing Benefits of Free Writing, practicing free writing on a daily basis can open up writing in a wondrous way. This happens in the best way possible when free writing is focused on a specific topic or question. The topic or question can be anything that you chose, but the more specific the question the better. Having a broad topic to work on can be more confusing than helpful, but allowing freedom to explore inside a narrowed topic or question allows for discovery that might be surprising and quite enlightening. Here’s how I do it…

I like to make a list of things I want to know more about. When I have the time to sit down to write, I chose one from my list to write on. I let the pen take me to where it needs to go. I give myself permission to go beyond the borders of my chosen topic, but only if I think it will help fill in the blanks of the subject at hand. Any stray thoughts that have no relation to the writing “topic” is put in the margins of the paper, so I can come back to it later. At the end of the focused free writing practice, I often find myself surprised at what I come up with. The point is to be flexible enough to explore an idea fully, but not to go off the path so far as to be nowhere near the first original idea. It’s a delicate balance that can only be found through lots of practice.

Not sure where to start in focused free writing? Look at your own work. Do you have questions about the story, the characters, the plot, the ending, the beginning? Do you have questions about a certain topic in your story? Or maybe you have questions about where your writing journey is going? Do you have mixed feelings about the contract deal you’ve just been offered for a new piece of work, or whether to attend a writing conference, or maybe the question is as simple as trying to figure out the optimum time of day to write?

Focused free writing can be beneficial, because it offers a deeper look into current and future writing projects, or even into the actual writing journey. Sometimes just the act of writing out a problem can give a solution that has been illusive for days or weeks. Most often, it is during this act that allows a writer to stumble across solutions never considered before.

Posted in Boosting Creativity, build confidence as a writer, creative writing, free writing, freewriting, how to write, learning to write, learning your writing style, learning your writing voice, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing practice

The Amazing Benefits of Free Writing

There are many tools in a writer’s toolbox, but none is as helpful as the simple practice of free writing. It’s something that I picked up in my writing journey, which I used––but never fully appreciated––until I learned how powerful it could really be. This happened after reading the book How to Be a Writer by Barbara Baig.

Nearly all her exercises, in the 265 page book, uses different variations of simple free write and focused freewriting. After doing several of the exercises, I found that all the free writing I’d done up to that point was really just a warm-up. I never took it to the next level, because I hadn’t realized I wasn’t doing free writing nearly enough (it should be done everyday), or even asking the right questions to do focused free writing.

Free writing is a remarkable tool that has, in a short period of time, led me to amazing discoveries about myself and my writing. The act of writing my thoughts directly onto the page, without any censorship, has given me the ability to articulate things that I wanted to say, but never knew how to say. It even unearthed things I never expected, and has led me down an entirely new path of writing, which I never would have seen without the process of free writing.

What is free writing and how does it work? It is actually a very simple process of writing either with pen and paper, or computer––whichever you feel more comfortable––for at least ten minutes without stopping (I use pen and paper because I find it’s easier to let go of the editor and just write). Turn that inner editor off! Don’t erase or correct mistakes! Keep writing no matter what! Set a timer, or an alarm if you want to keep the free writing limited in time (at the very least do ten minutes, if not more).

If you run out of ideas to write about, then just keep writing, “I don’t know what to write now,” until something pops up. Believe me, once you let the gate open, a flood of ideas will hit and you might even find it difficult to stop. I usually want to keep going, but have to move on to something else (but will come back later to explore more). Other times, I find that I’ve exhausted my ideas, and move then on to another subject to free write on, or another writing project all together.

The beauty of free writing is that you can free write on anything you chose. It can be a journal; a way to help get rid of the random thoughts, or the list of things you need to get done that day, or an argument you just had with the next door neighbor––or what I like to call “junk”––filling your head any given day. Once that junk has been expelled, other ideas are free to float to the surface.

The free writing can be on a specific subject or topic you want to write about. It can be on a new character that’s been haunting you. It can be, “I don’t want to do this” over and over. It doesn’t matter. Keep the pen moving! The point is to let yourself go and see where it takes you.

In doing this, you may wander into territory you don’t want to touch on, so change the direction. You may even find something new to explore that you never considered before. It’s up to you where you go and how long you want to go there. Just don’t have any expectations for your writing and allow yourself to enjoy the journey. You are in control!

The most important is to keep any free writing you do private. This gives you the freedom and you need to explore without judgment from others. The pressure is off and you no longer feel like you have someone looking over your shoulder. It is just you and your thoughts. Doing this will eventually boost your confidence as a writer, and will also let you just practice being a writer.

As important as it is for others not to judge your work in this practice stage, that goes double for yourself. If you find what you are writing “terrible” or “wonderful”, just ignore it, and move on. There will be plenty of time later to decide to polish up an idea, or just dump it all together. Right now, all that matters are the words being poured onto the page. Those elusive words and ideas are no longer hiding inside your crowded mind, but in solid form ready for you to use in any matter you chose. So keep that pen moving, and let the ideas flow!

Check out More on Focused Freewriting to know more about the free writing process.

Posted in Barbara Baig, book review, books, experimental writing, free writing, How to Be a Writer, learning to write, nonfiction, writer's block, writing book

Book Review: How to Be a Writer

At the beginning of the month I picked up a book that drastically changed my way of thinking as a writer. It is why I took a bit of a hiatus from this blog so that I could focus on the book and what it had to offer. I have to say it has made a significant impact on me. Barbara Baig’s How to be a Writer gave me what no other writing book or writing class had given me, permission to explore and experiment in my writing.

My writing up to this point has been a self guided tour of something I’ve always wanted to do. I lacked the specific education and knowledge of how to be a writer, so I struck out on my own to find my way. In that journey, I found I really enjoyed writing and what it had to offer me. I occasionally had good ideas to write about, but as I wrote and practiced the craft of writing, I was constantly blocked by insufficient ideas to write about and believed I had a really bad case of writer’s block.

This became quite frustrating even though I had helpful advice from writing friends, online classes and other writing books. I knew in my head about the writing process and how to fight writer’s block, but it wasn’t until I read Barbara’s book that explained it in a way I could understand. I realized that it wasn’t that I had writer’s block, but my approach to writing was hindering my ability to write.

Barbara’s book is full of writing exercises centered around free writing, which asks questions that keep the pen moving. She also explains the writing process in great detail, breaking it down into individual parts of the seven main writer’s powers (Creativity, Memory and Expertise, Observation, Imagination, The Subconscious, Curiosity, and the Sherlock Holmes School of Writing). She discusses how to develop the content-mind of a writer and how to write to readers instead of for readers.

The book is all about empowering the writer and I highly recommend it anyone who is just beginning as a writer, or the seasoned writer who needs to get back in touch with their inner writer. It certainly helped me and I will continue to use on my never-ending journey of how to be a writer.

 

Posted in Boosting Creativity, free writing, inspiration, the creative process, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing journey, writing prompt

The Benefit of Writing Prompts

Picture from www.slideshare.net

Have you ever sat down to write and just didn’t feel the creative juices flowing? Some days can be harder than others to get the muse to do its job. Sometimes it is helpful to have something to visualize and then write about it. This visualization can be take the form of a photograph. Find an image that inspires you to write and just write for 10 to 15 minutes on that photograph. Let your mind roam free as it comes up with a story explaining that picture and what is happening in it. It doesn’t have to be anything grand or elaborate. Just let your imagination run free. You might be surprised where your creativity might take you.

Another writing prompt you can try is by taking an ordinary object around the house like a blender, television, spoon, an apple, a lamp, ect. Then write from that objects point of view. What would a blender say if it could talk? You can also choose an animal: fish, squirrel, spider, ant, bear, ect. Write from that animals point of view. What would a squirrel say if he found a mouse in his nest?

Often when we look at something from another point of view or simply step out of our box of comfort, we can inspire ourselves to see things we never saw before. Using writing prompts not only helps get you into the writing mood, but it can help change your whole way of thinking.

Next time you sit down to write just remember that only a few minutes of free writing can open up the flood gates of creative genius, so that short story or novel you’ve been working on can be tackled with new vigor. In 10 minutes, what kind of story would you come up with to explain the picture above?