Notes from a Writer’s Life #10

Navigating the plot maze.

Writing sometimes feels like getting lost in a maze.

A month since I started and the rewrites on Bleak Waters are moving on well now. I’m approaching 30K words and am almost at the 1/3 mark of the target word count of 90K.

As always, the writing process involves listening to my intuition as I write. As technically this is the second draft, you’d probably imagine that the process should be easier.

After all, I know the key plot points, the main characters, their motivations and their conflicts. Plus, I’ve already written it once.

The truth is however, that this draft is no easier or harder to write than draft one.

Firstly I’m not just rewriting parts of the story, I’m rewriting the whole thing.

As with draft one, the plot points are fixed. They are destinations that each quarter of the book works towards, but figuring out how to get to those key plot points is the tricky bit.

This process is very much like walking through a maze.

There’s a lot of dead ends, a lot of stalling and backing up and rewriting again, until you find a clear path, or at least a path of least resistance.

The resistance is generally caused by the characters, and normally it’s because I’m trying to get them to act in a specific way, rather than in a way in keeping with their character.

For example, during one recent scene I was writing a conversation between two characters and as originally written they were both aware of the truth of the situation they were discussing.

But, by making those characters aware of this truth, for the plot to advance, they had to act in ways that meant they essentially forgot they knew this truth.

Writing sessions stalled, and progress ground to a halt until I realised I had to go back and fix the problem.

The solution, in this instance, was to make up a bit of character back story that essentially put both characters out of the picture so that, as the story and that particular sequence plays out, they are as oblivious of the truth as the Main Character until the point they need to know.

Once they find out, murder follows, and the stakes are raised for all involved.

By now, any writers amongst you who write extensive character biographies and outlines before you write are probably reading this in horror, wondering how I can create anything out of this chaos.

The truth is though, this process, this pattern of writing myself into dead ends that I then have to go back and unpick, is the only way I can work.

I’ve tried biographies and outlines but they always fall apart the minute I start writing because I don’t actually know what I need to know and write at any given point until I actually write it and get lost in the maze.

I get there in the end though and once I make it out of the plot maze, when I look back, the route through is the only one I could have followed.

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