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Thursday, April 26, 2012

 

I'm 5 Today...What's Your Story?

My daughter's celebratory birthday hat. 
Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey

My youngest turned five this week and it made me realize that, just like her writer mom, sometimes her plot narratives are all over the place. (I suppose that is similar to the plot lines for most five-year-olds.) When she tells a story, sometimes I feel as if I am on a wave-rocked boat and unsure of my horizon.

Just like a novelist, she needs to learn to re-arrange her plot. Or she needs to remember to return to her plot line.

Often I am trying to do too much in my writing and I may lose my plot as I progress. Maybe I start writing a little of a character’s background and soon I’m far into a different scene. In honor of my daughter, here are five suggestions on getting your plot back on calm waters.

1. When a five-year-old tells you a story backwards, it can be cute. When a novelist tells a story backwards and with twists all around, it can be disconcerting. If you are telling any stories backwards, make sure you ground your readers in the novel’s scenes. Even if they can’t find the horizon directly, they won’t be too rocked about that they can’t follow your course.

2. My daughter is always mixing her stories around. She’ll tell one person something and embellishing the story to someone else. Make sure you read and re-read your story, but don’t be afraid to shift elements around and embellish, if you need to. What may seem like a great plot twist on the scene on page 45 may have more impact if shifted later in the story. The plot may have shifted some while you wrote your first draft.

3. My daughter tries to tell a story about herself, but halfway through the protagonist becomes her best friend. Is it the same way with your novel? Does your protagonist’s motive still help to propel the plot? Or did another character start driving the plot? Re-read and re-evaluate how your main characters are working to move the plot forward (or not!).

4. My five-year-old has a habit of telling me a story that includes too few actors. She’ll only mention one friend when, in reality, it was five friends involved. Her focus may only be on one person, but your plot should have more than a skeleton crew filling the pages. Make sure that there is enough action with enough people that your plot doesn’t seem too thin or, in the case of my daughter, unrealistic.

5. And, I don’t know about your novel or five-year-old, but they seem to revel in a bit of (mischievous) conflict. Although we try to avoid conflict, make sure you have some turbulence running through your plot. I’m sure you were thinking the same thing as I am...with a five-year-old on a rocking boat, there is sure to be lots of turbulence!

Off to eat some more birthday cake with a lot of people, including a few protagonists, but don’t worry, it’s part of my plot line.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is an editor and writer living in North Carolina. When she’s not chasing around her kids to work of the birthday cake calories, she is working through her pile of to-be-read books.

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