Someone on the NaNo forum asked how people solve the plot conflicts in their stories. My first thought was — just wait. Any story I’m currently working on is rolling around in my head even when I’m not thinking about it consciously. In that magical way the brain has of pulling stuff together so that it all makes sense, the solution usually reveals itself sooner or later. Sometimes later. Sometimes much later.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a conflict. It can be a gap that doesn’t want to be filled (how do I get from A to C?), or a complication that needed to be untwisted. If there’s one thing you can count on as a writer, it’s that you’ll always be dealing with an endless variety of interesting (and frustrating) problems.
I don’t always want to wait around for the mental slow cooker to do its thing. But I’d never considered that there was any logical way to tackle those problems. I have two ways of getting stories written. For NaNo, I make notes, ask questions, and then shuffle everything around into a more or less chronological order. Then the writing begins. In between NaNos, I get an idea, think about it a while to make sure there’s something solid to work with, and charge in. Either way, I always reach a point where I don’t know what to do next. If it’s NaNo, I weasel around the bad spot and take off from there. Otherwise, I generally stop dead, maybe for months, until the cooker comes up with a solution.
The more stories I start, the more I realize this stop and go is just too frustrating. I don’t enjoy having a dozen or more stories in various stages of completion. So what’s the solution? The same method I’m using for NaNo. I’ve been concentrating on prepping for NaNo, so I wasn’t really thinking any further until I read that question on the forum. I was just going along, using the Outline to build up the story, very happy about how well it was going. Having it all laid out as a scene by scene summary was giving me a good sense of the whole, and it was easy to see where it needed more development. What happens next? What is this character feeling now? What complications need to be overcome? What are the outcomes of a certain action?
I’d made a little stab at chapter summaries in the past, mostly because Scrivener makes it so easy, but it was always as an after-the-fact kind of thing, to help me remember the content of each chapter. I’m looking at The Warden, last year’s novel, and cringing at what I hoped would be the final revision, because it’s so hard to remember everything that goes into each chapter. Have I mentioned that I have a really terrible memory? I can see now that the obvious solution is to go back to the beginning and write a short summary of every scene, rather than work by chapters. When I start on it again, I’ll only have to look over two to 4,000 words of summary rather than 80,000 words. It will be much easier to see what needs to be cut, and where more development is necessary.
So, for the rest of October I’ll be testing the Phase Outline method on one novel yet to be written and one already written. Interesting times ahead.