Tighten it Up Volume II: Stick to your Story

Say it with me, folks:  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  I mean, what would be the point of writing a story you don’t intend on sticking to?  But believe it or not, it’s easy to get sidetracked.  It’s happened to us all, and making this mistake will slow down the pace of your novel, waste precious words, and bore a reader or potential agent/editor.

So for this second volume in my blog series, I wanted to mention a few ways that sticking to your story can help tighten up your writing.  And by story, I don’t mean your plot.  I mean the basic pieces that give your plot its structure.  Keeping these things in mind while you’re writing will help you focus on what’s important, and disregard the rest.

1.  Remember the core fundamentals: GMC

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – they are the most basic elements of every story.  Without one of them, your characters don’t have a plot.  The easiest way to test whether or not a scene needs to be there is to ask yourself if it has one of these elements.  Does the scene help to establish what your character wants?  Does it show why he/she wants it?  Does it show what’s standing in the way of him/her getting it, either externally or internally?  If the answer is yes to one of these questions, then there’s a good chance it needs to stay.

Keep in mind that your character’s goals will most likely change throughout the book, usually at your turning points.  In my stories, what my character’s think they want on page 50 is almost never what they end up wanting or needing on page 300.  I use my turning points to reestablish these.  Which brings me to my next point…

2.  Begin with the end in mind, and all the turning points in between.

As an engineer, I’m used to breaking things down into pieces and seeing how they all contribute to an end product.  I use this same sort of logic when I begin to plot a manuscript.  I know where my characters and story are starting from, where they’ll be at the end, and all of their turning points in between.  Every scene I write connecting these key places in my story is somehow working to advance me to those turning points, thus building my end product – a manuscript.

Knowing where you want those turning points is also important.  Don’t wait until page 200 for your first turn; set benchmarks along the way.  Try to think about where you want to leave the reader at the end of page 50, page 100, etc…, then construct the scenes that need to happen in order to move between them.

3.  Don’t forget the Character Arc

Much like our own children, we need to encourage our characters to grow.  If they’re not tested, they have no reason to rise to the occasion.  If they don’t fail, they have no impetus to try again.  Make sure your scenes create an environment in which your characters can do so.

And finally…

4.  Every scene in your manuscript should somehow further your plot.

Whether it be through action sequence or character development, every scene you write should be another link in the chain of your story.  If you want to write a coffee shop scene, make sure your characters are doing more than just shooting the shit about the weather and shoes.  I like coffee and shoes as much as the next girl, but unless the stiletto is your murder weapon or the coffee is poisoned, there’s gotta be more to that scene to warrant keeping it.  Bottom line?  You should be able to defend every scene you have.  If you can’t – it doesn’t need to be there.

It’s a lot to think about, I know.  And if you’re a pantser you’re probably rolling your eyes right about now.  But I look at it this way:  if I can ensure my manuscript has all the things it needs, that doesn’t leave much room for all the filler crap it doesn’t need, right?  So, stick to your story and you’re already well on your way to writing a tighter novel.

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