Friday, December 18, 2009

What In The World Was I Writing About??

Ever have this particular problem? You decide to write a story (or if you're into poetry, a poem) so at the beginning, you have a basic idea of what the plot is. You're merrily plugging away, when all of a sudden (but not really because it quietly snuck up and whacked you in the head with a two by four) you can't remember what the plot line is. It was crystal clear when you started, but about four pages in, it quickly becomes clear as mud, and you have no idea what to do next.

But you really don't want to throw the story away, especially since it showed such promise at the beginning, so you continue to write in the (usually futile) hope of finding it again. More often than not, the plot remains frustratingly out of reach.

Much to my chagrin (and constant annoyance), I have apparently picked up the nasty habit of losing the plot to a given story when I write it. Which is to say, I know what the plot is when I first start writing the story, but somewhere along the way, I lose focus and the plot vanishes like a bottle of cheap wine drunk by an alcoholic.

A prime example of this aggravation was the short story I did for FSG called Image. The original plot was about revenge (as a matter of fact, I used this particular post as a starting point), but being of unsound mind, I decided to throw a wrench into the works. I approached the plot from the back door, which is to say that I had the protagonist summon a demon/spirit from Hell, and have them use the body of his target in order to ruin the sterling reputation of his target.

So it started off okay. I had the demon/spirit take over the body of the victim and leave only the heavily sedated head behind. Somewhere along the way though, I lost the plot when I decided to turn the tables on the protagonist. If I kept to the same linear plot of revenge, I think it would have worked out to my satisfaction. But since I decided to change mid-stream, I got completely lost on how to make it work. It took me the better part of one week plus the long Thanksgiving holiday/furlough weekend to get all the kinks worked out (wrote 16 pages over that weekend) and thus finish the story*.

*synopsis: Kevin looks to get revenge on his co-worker Keisha and make her his girlfriend. He finds out through nefarious means that Alanna was an escapee from Purgatory, and blackmails her into doing a job on Keisha's reputation. Alanna, with the help of Michael and Raphael, attempts to turn the tables on Kevin and along the way, tries to redeem herself and save Keisha.

The question I pose to you the reader is this: Have you ever lost the plot to a story that you were writing, simply because you decided to tweak it one too many times, thus permanently ruining the story? Or even worse, not remember what the original plot was to begin with?

If you don't write, but say play music, then the question would be this: Have you ever gotten lost while playing or performing a song and not remember how to get back on track to where you were originally?


  1. I've lost track so many times my stories have become train wrecks. I guess that is the nature of fiction, though? Fluid like our imaginations?

    Outlines are sometimes a necessarily evil.

  2. That is one of my greatest fears. Actually, when I first got edits, I was always frightened of making it worse while trying to make it better.

    Now, I'm never ahead so much as to have time to over-tweak.

  3. Hell George I stay lost. I just try to disguise it with BS and a dash of humor.

  4. Jewel: Most definitely the nature of fiction and our imaginations.

    Sadly though, this was something that afflicted me throughout high school. I would write fantastic essays, only to find out later that I forgot to write a particular paragraph and presto! the ending was much different than the beginning.

    Natasha: It's a great fear to have, isn't it?

    Fortunately though, it has popped up with a greater degree of infrequency as of late. When it does though, it's still a bit of a lulu to recover from.

    Travis: I haven't gotten that screwy yet, but there's still hope for me to hit that level of pure screwiness.

  5. My characters always hijack my stories. Every time!

  6. That wouldn't be such a bad thing, you know.

    At least you would have a basic idea on where the story was going.

    My problem simple stems from having thought of a good swerve, then not properly intergrating said swerve.

  7. Back in the day, I was a musician. When I did studio work, I always had to beware the over tweak!

  8. That sounds about normal for music. Sometimes when you're trying to find that perfect balance, you can over produce something to the point where it doesn't sound right or natural.

  9. I have come up with cartoon gags as I lay in bed that I can't remember the way I put it once I start to draw.

  10. That kind of bites.

    I don't think I've gotten to that point with some of my stories yet, but I've come pretty close.

    It really does suck when it happens though.

  11. I can't even count the number of times I've done this.

    I guess it explains why I have hundreds of half-finished pieces titled "WTF??"

  12. Here's a classic example of how I made broken stories work out.

    I had about a half dozen stories in which I came to a screeching halt, simply because the plot idea gradually vanished the further along I got (although in one case, it vanished after 1 paragraph).

    I took all of my broken stories, weaved a basic plot about a writer who keeps losing track of what he writes, and presto! 20 page short story.

  13. I liked your solution - using the myriad plot lines in its own story. Very creative!

    I have had the problem myself - but not usually on a first draft so I'm okay as long as I copy the document and then have at it. If the changes aren't good, then I can go back to the original. The occasional times I've gone completely off what I've intended in getting the rough draft down, well, that's been interesting. Sometimes a new improved plot emerges and sometimes a really bad plot sits disgruntled as I file it away under "writing exercises gone bad" - lol!

  14. I've always like writing a story with multiple plot lines because I enjoy the challenges that it presents in trying to keep both of them separate and heading towards a mutual conclusion.

    Occasionally though, I can and do lose it in the process of writing and can be a major pain in trying to find it again.


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G. B. Miller

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