True for life, but not for my story.
In my previous post on Book (Re)Writing, I talked about needed to look at my own advice in order to re-write my book, so I sat and I read through my posts to see what I have written about in the past. It has helped to focus my mind. However, while I have focused my head on writing generally, it doesn’t help me to understand where my book has gone wrong.
I’ve been attending screenwriting classes with Gavin Williams (twitter@gavstatic) recently, after having done a course with him last September and again this spring, and I’ve received loads of great tips from him about how screenwriters approach the breakdown of a story. I’ve been advised to create a beat sheet when writing scripts.
A beat sheet is an outline of a story that comes in the form of bullet points that can be then expanded upon to form sentences and then paragraphs. One of the very best bits of advice Gavin has ever given me is to form this beat sheet on index cards, rather than on a large sheet of paper. In the past I’ve used a very large corkboard that was left over from my student days, and then large sketchpads that then also got dotted with post it notes.
Putting my ideas on index cards has organised my brain in a much better way. I am someone who changes my mind on quite a frequent basis, usually to experiment with different ideas of how something can work. This is so much easier to do with index cards than having to re-write an entire A3 sheet of planning.
How JK Rowling planned!
However, I didn’t know the index card trick when I planned and wrote my book. In truth I’m not entirely sure I had a solid plan for what I wanted to have happen in my book. I knew where the first book started, and I had an event where I wanted the book to end. However, because of the nature of my books, I never got to that event before I realised I really needed to end book one and instead just start book two.
My book series is called ‘The Phoenix Spell’, and its intention is to be an epic High Fantasy story, that runs more or less continuously from book to book; any jumps in time I have planned would be mid-book not at the start of a new one. The event in question that I was aiming for as the end of book one ‘From the Ashes’, that would have been a cliff-hanger, has now ended up being about a third of the way through book three ‘Into the Flames’.
My cliff-hanger has ended up being a pivotal point changing the course of one book, rather than being the end of a book that was supposed to hook the reader into reading the next book. And I have to admit, at the time of writing the books, I didn’t care that I had made this change, because in the time between making the initial plan and doing the actually writing, I’d had more ideas about what sort of story I wanted to tell, and what other events I wanted to have happen.
The original draft of ‘Into the Flames’ was supposed to be the second book. I’ve added an entire new book ‘To Light an Inferno’ in-between these books. At no point have I done any planning for this, which makes the original intention for ‘Into the Flames’ completely redundant. And one of the ways in which I made it possible for the new book to slot in was by adding hints and laying out foreshadowing into the plot of ‘From the Ashes’.
And that my friends, is how I have completely lost the plot (of my book, though I will accept arguments that I am referring to my sanity as well).
When I admitted the truth that I needed to re-write ‘From the Ashes’, I knew one of the things that I would need to re-consider is all of the ‘additions’ I have made to book one in order to justify things that happen in the new book two, and even as far in the future as book three. Now as the writer, I should know what all of these things are, except because I have been doing this for years I will admit that I’m so close to the work that even I’m not sure about everything that I have added to the story over the years.
Hello index cards. Using these lovely little beauties I have written a breakdown of my entire book, doing a section by section, and then chapter by chapter breakdown (summarised in one or two sentences) of exactly what happens in ‘From the Ashes’. I have found my plot, and good grief, I’m not surprised some of my beta-readers have got lost trying to follow the story.
If I used an analogy and compared my plot to a pathway, I will admit I would never want a plot that is akin to a straight line on a flat road; a little bit of meandering and some inclines would make a more interesting story. Needless to say I currently have mountains that require specialist equipment to climb and you don’t just go straight up; some of the paths involve climbing down a bit before you start going back towards the summit.
As much as I love that my book does this, I couldn’t sell it, and if I’m honest I’ve got to the middle of writing book three, and I’ve stopped because even I have no idea how I’m going to carry on. The foundations of my story, while they could be solid, have been built by me pouring the concrete after I’ve already build the walls. It’s a mess.
However, I do have some hope. Having done the breakdown that I’ve created, all of the story elements that are there are solid stories that could work in their own right. They might not work with these books, but they are stories I can use elsewhere. Doing the breakdown has helped me to focus on finding what I had intended to be the main plot.
I can start the re-writing (once I’ve followed a few other steps first) by creating a solid plan of what just the main plot will be, not just for ‘From the Ashes’, but for ‘To Light an Inferno’ and ‘Into the Flames’, and beyond as well.
Hopefully, if you’re new-ish to writing, this post has been a great idea of how a writer can lose and then find their plot again to help you avoid it by using the tips I’ve learn from Gavin Williams. If you’re like me and you’ve already lost the path, try index cards; they are great breadcrumbs to lead you back to where you wanted to go in the first place, and you don’t even need to have used them before you started your journey; they are like magic breadcrumbs they place themselves in the direction you need to go.