Six Tips for Plotting Elegantly

Last week, I gave some examples from movies and books of what I considered plotting elegantly. This week, I list six tips for plotting elegantly–three for how to recognize when you’re not plotting elegantly and three for how to fix the problems.

Three Clues to When You Aren’t Plotting Elegantly

Too Much Explanation. If I find myself writing pages and pages, trying to explain a plot point, something is wrong. This is a particular pitfall for mystery writers. We have to explain the mystery at the end, but we should be as concise as possible. After sending the manuscript for A Shadow on the Snow to my publisher, I didn’t look at it for several weeks. When I went back to work on the edits I received, I was shocked at how chatty my characters were in the last chapter, over-explaining the solution to the mystery.

Your Guts Say No, But Your Brain Says Yes. When it comes to my writing, I go with my gut. If I reread something and my gut gets sick. I know something is wrong. When I reread the climax for Shadow, I cringed . Nothing technically wrong with it, except that I’d seen or read something like it about a thousand times before. And it felt mean. I could do better, write something original that flowed elegantly from the traits of the characters.

No One Will Notice. I don’t know how many times I’ve read a section, toward the end of an editing session, and thought, “This isn’t great, but no one will notice.” I’m tired of editing, my creativity is ebbing, and so I want to skip the mediocre section. It’s much better to flag it, let it sit awhile, and come back to it when I’m fresh.

Three Tips to Help You Plot Elegantly

Let Your Characters Act Naturally. If you know your characters like you know your relatives, they can help you when the plotting turns clunky. Often when my plot limps along, I realize I’m forcing my characters to act contrary to the way I’ve designed them. If I’m forcing an introverted character to act extroverted, and haven’t given any reason for this change in behavior, I’m in trouble. If a certain behavior is essential to the plot, I need to find the character most suitable for it.

Examine Your Setting. In a previous post, I write about how to “Maximize a Setting”. Are you taking advantage of everything a particular setting has to offer? My main character Rae Riley works as a check-out clerk in a library. One advantage of this setting is that it’s public, so I can have just about any character walk through the doors. It’s also a place where Rae learns to conduct research because she interacts with librarians. This fact gives my nineteen-year-old MC a plausible reason for knowing what a microfim machine is and how to use it to look up old newspaper article.

What Would the Reader Like? Until I tackled Shadow, I didn’t understand how critical keeping future readers in mind is. In the middle of my novel, Rae has a personal breakthrough. I got all warm and fuzzy writing it. After polishing it, I realized I couldn’t let all these cuddly emotions continue. Readers might overdose on the sweetness or grow bored. I had to let something bad happen. Even mean. I forced myself to give my main character a major setback. That setback led to more clues and hugely helped the plotting of the mystery.

Writers, what do you do when your plot starts to sputter and clank? Readers, what’s one of your favorite plot?

7 thoughts on “Six Tips for Plotting Elegantly

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  1. Hi,

    What do i do when the plot sputters and clanks? I just had this in my Mystery I’m writing:

    The sleuth is going along, la la la, when suddenly sputter! clank! Just like you said, my Gut went sour.

    I’ve done this: I began writing a different scene. Then I came back to the sputtering scene. And there it was in plain view: Too.Much.Explanation ! Argh !

    (I’ve since removed the ‘hey look over here at this beautiful freshly mowed green lawn on a bright sunshiney day, I can see clearly now the rain is gone’ and just put in ‘the mowed lawn’ and let the Reader fill in the rest!)

    Thanks for the post,

  2. I’m definitely guilty of overexplaining. At the sputter and clank roadblock, I’ve also had to take a step back, refocus on the characters in the scene, and figure out what the story needs next.

  3. While I haven’t written any fiction for awhile, I find myself overexplaining in my blog posts, believe it or not! I looked at the draft of a blog post, realized it would bore any reader (I was getting bored reading it!), and cut it down to about a third of the original length before finally publishing it.

  4. Dear JPC (wasn’t sure where to leave you a message!)

    Reedsy online has a per-week short story theme with 5 prompts, like this week’s: Theme: Rain. Prompts: 1. Character in the rain at end of story. 2. Raining men (literal or figurative) 3. Magic happens when it rains. 4. First rain of the season (Bambi anyone?) 5. Driving in the rain.

    Do you have anything like such in the works for us writers ?

    P.S. I’m asking you because the Reedsy writers are in the thousands and dang I’m not that good…yet!

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