Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Losing the Plot

20,000 words into the first draft of a YA thriller, it’s tough to admit that I’ve lost the plot! I’ve spent the last three weeks desperately editing, revising and rewriting, but I finally have to accept that the story just isn’t working. All that effort – for nothing.

OK, maybe not for nothing. This is a new genre and a new target age-group for me and I’ve learnt a lot, most of which I hope to be able to put to good use at a later date.

When it comes to plotting, I am definitely a planner rather than a ‘pantser’. I need to know the story from beginning to end before I actually start writing. I have tried – and failed – to write a fast, first draft and work out the plot as I went along, but it just doesn’t work for me. I need a plan – not that I necessarily stick to it. It’s like a map I can go back to if I get lost – or a lifeline, if I get stuck.

That said, it’s taken me a while to work out exactly what went wrong this time around. I’d done the research. I had a detailed scene-by-scene outline. I had a synopsis. I knew my characters inside out – their background, what they wanted, what made them tick... and I knew whodunit.

In two of my books for younger readers – Spike and Ali Enson and Spike in Space, due out in August – I blended realism (adoption, sibling rivalry) and fantasy (aliens, space travel).

This blend of fact and fiction was the starting point for this latest project, but the present-day real event – or series of events – is harrowing and by adding an element of fantasy, I was left feeling that I was not doing justice to either strand of the story. So, I've had to choose between the two (more on that later)... and start plotting all over again.

Of course, this whole process has made me feel like I've lost the plot in more ways than one. Anyone else know that feeling?


  1. All is not lost - this idea may not be when you need now, but one day, when you aren't looking, it may creep out from its hidey-hole and you'll find it a new home, one that really works.

    I hope you have plenty of chocolate to see you through the next few days!

  2. Ugh, yes. This has happened to me a few times, and it's so frustrating. It's also one of the reasons I don't like first drafts that much – that fear of hitting a dead end and not being able to work my way back out!

    Having said that, though, I've had this happen to me with stories that I then returned to at a later date and was able to make work (my book that's out next year being one of them), so working on something that doesn't 'take' is never a waste of time. It's just that when I first attempted these ideas, they weren't ready.

    Hope you can find a way through the plot maze and emerge with your sanity intact! *sends more chocolate*

  3. As they say, "Tell me about it!" Sorry that you're in a sad sort of place with this story, Ros. One feels so foolish, as if anyone else could click the wretched thing into life in a moment. Glad you are able to pick some good ideas from what you've done/not doneit and analyse what's going on usefully. Interesting that this seems to be something that can happen whether you plan or don't plan - a whole deeper strand in the make-up of the story.

  4. I'm sorry to hear that - I know just how you feel. As I write without a real plan, I'm rather used to writing myself into a corner, though can usually pull back before hitting the wall! It's interesting that it can happen even if you plan.

    I hope you find something you can revive - and as Emma and Jo both said, you may well come back to other bits of it later and use it in a different way.

    Best of luck with the resuscitation!