“…coincidences to get your characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it is cheating.” – Emma Coates; Pixar story artist.
I read that advice some years ago and never forgot it. Whether you write by the seat of your pants (pantser) or you meticulously plot out your story (plotter), you eventually will come to a point where you write yourself into a corner or your plot hits a wall. You have a couple options: scrap it and start over from the point you got yourself into that mess, or write yourself out of it. If you choose the latter, the challenge is writing a solution without taking the shortcut of using coincidence to bail yourself out. Not only does it ask too much of the reader, it just begs them to roll their eyes and put down the book with a heavy sigh and an ‘oh brother’.
One helpful way to avoid figuratively standing on tiptoe in your painted-in corner is to use a timeline spread sheet or plot diary, if you will. What I mean is, make notes for yourself along the way that keep track of the plot points that build your story. Most of the time you will catch the issues with the story before they become major rewrites or too complicated to resolve without resorting to the implausible.
Why it’s important:
- Avoid writing things ‘out of time‘: If Johnny doesn’t say (X) until chapter 4, Susie isn’t going to know about it in chapter 2.
- If you are dropping clues or innuendos, having a spreadsheet will help you distribute them throughout the story at critical places.
- It helps you set a good pace for the action. You don’t want all the intrigue or action bunched together with big stretches in between when nothing happens. The plot should progress like a sine wave, with a build to the action and a rest before the next bit. Or like stairs, where the intrigue builds until the climax.
- It will keep you from ‘speeding’ through time. In other words, certain events need a minimum length of time to unfold in order to be realistic. Days, weeks, months may need to pass to bring a romance to fruition. The same is true with a criminal investigation or a legal case.
Whatever method you use to record your plot, include the dates, the chapter and page number and space for detailed notes on what was happening. So even if you don’t meticulously plot out your story ahead of time, plotting along the way will help you avoid wasting time later with lengthy revisions and corrections.
I wish you happy writing and productive editing!
Header image via imglip, David Tenant image via Pixabay.