Getting Your Story Back on Track

Picture this…

I’m chugging away with E. Michels and Lori Waters on one of our Tuesday writing marathons.  My goal is to hit at least 1500, and this particular day I blew it out of the water.  By the time 3 o’clock rolled around and I had to put on my gym mom hat, I had just over 2200 words in.  May be small potatoes to some of you but this is a huge deal to me.  I was on fire!

Only…I wasn’t.

I should’ve been sitting at the gym that afternoon wondering what sort of wine I would drink when I got home, but instead I was trying to figure out what the funny feeling was in the pit of my gut.  No, it wasn’t gas.  It was my “writey” sense attacking my “you just kicked ass” sense, and I really didn’t understand why.  I mean, the words had flowed so easily that day.

So I texted my marathon buddies and asked if they’d ever written a killer scene that just didn’t feel like it fit.  E. Michels asks, “Were you forcing your characters or is it a POV issue?”  Without much thought I say, “I just don’t think my characters would do what I had them do.”

Truth is, deep down I knew that’s what the problem was.  But I’m a diehard plotter with boards and sticky notes and everything!  It’s hard to admit that maybe I need to re-evaluate my story.  What’s also hard is for me to except that I just spent six hours of my precious writing time writing a scene that, in the end, didn’t increase the word count on my manuscript.  It’s a hard pill to swallow, and I just needed someone else to get me to admit it.  I needed someone to give me permission to scrap it and start over.  And I thought that maybe some of you needed the same, so here are a few tips on how to make it easier to find your way back to where you need to be.

1.  The first problem is admitting you’re lost.

Look on the bright side.  So you wrote one scene that needs to go.  It’s better than ignoring your gut and writing the rest of the book in the wrong direction, right?  And it’s not necessarily wasted words.  Cut them out and place them in a “cut scenes” file.  With a few tweaks, there may be another manuscript you can use it in later.

2.  Get out of the map.

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I love this episode of FRIENDS, don’t you?  But where Joey needs to get in the map to find his way, sometimes I find I need to get out of the map to find my way.  I get so bogged down on word count that I don’t take the time to step back and look at the big picture.  Where are your characters in their intended arc?  Is the plot still moving at the right pace?  How many words do you have left and can you fit in what’s still needed.  A few quick checks may be all it takes to show you where you need to be.

3.  Remember the basics: GMC

This one is usually the one that gets me moving again.  Often times I’ve considered the overall GMC of the manuscript, but I haven’t spent enough effort looking at the short term GMC’s between my turning points.  Or maybe I did, but I’ve discovered something about my characters along the way that changes their goals or motivations at this particular turning point.  Remember, writing is a dynamic process so it’s okay if things change along the way.

4.  Check your threads

Perhaps the reason the scene doesn’t make sense now is because you’ve lost a thread along the way that was supposed to lead you here.  The more threads you have, the harder it can be to keep track of.  So write them down and check them often.

5.  If all else fails, stop and ask for directions

Talk it out with someone else.  It could be that you just need someone to give you permission to admit you’ve lost your way, like I did.  They may raise a question that leads you to find your answer. Sometimes someone who’s disconnected from your story will be the one to connect it.

I hope this helps you in some small way.  I’d love to hear any other ideas you have.  How do you find your way back to your story?

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