It struck me, as I was working my way through my latest first draft, that plot development is very much like navigating a maze…
*Photo courtesy of Mecookie on Flickr Creative Commons
…and the similarities give some insight into how to tackle a tricky plot problem.
- A methodical approach can work—but sometimes you just have to go for it. As an avid “plotter,” I usually know in advance the course I want my book to take. There are moments, though, when the muse tugs me off the beaten track. I always follow!
- Sometimes you have to go down dead ends. No matter how well you’ve planned your route, sometimes the only way to know a particular path leads to a dead end is to go there…and sometimes the only way to know a scene doesn’t fit is to write it. Those efforts aren’t wasted: now you know where *not* to go!
- A view from above helps—sometimes you need to get the big picture to figure out where to go next. Have you ever explored a corn maze? They often have a tower or raised platform somewhere near the middle, where you can look out over the whole thing, see where you’ve been, and see where you have to go. Sometimes I need to do the same thing with my book, spreading out plot points on my floor or taping them to my wall. It helps!
- If you take the most direct, most obvious route from point A to point B, you miss surprises along the way. Whether you’re writing a book or exploring a corn maze, the joy is in the journey. Arriving at the finish line isn’t the point. That’s why corn mazes usually contain surprise “treasures” along the way. A dead end might not take you closer to the end, but it may lead you to a farting outhouse or a tower for a birds’ eye view.
- Sometimes it’s easier to figure out the best path by starting at the end and working your way backward. This might be cheating when working a maze, but it works—for mazes and for plots. Can’t find your way forward? Start at the end of the story and consider what needs to happen for you to get there.
- The better you know every possible twist and turn—including the dead ends and loops—the better you can map out the final route you want to take. I spend a lot of time exploring plot dead-ends and writing scenes that won’t make the final cut; it’s nice to know that time isn’t wasted.
Whether you’re a “plotter” or a “pantster,” there are times when you need to figure out how to get past a tricky plot knot. What approaches do you find helpful?