What to Do When You Have No Clue Where Your Novel is Headed

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbThere are people out there who need to plan out at least the major plot points of their novel before they start writing. I have a deep respect for these people, because writing is the only part of my life that is completely spontaneous.

You’re shocked. I know.

I am a Type A, list-obsessed, always-needs-to-be-early perfectionist. I was the freshman who showed up to her first college classes 30 minutes before the class before mine had even let out. I fill out my planner in the form of task lists, not special events or reminders. I will literally stop reading a post or article on a web site if it has a spelling or grammar error.

Don’t get me wrong or label me a blog snob. My blog probably has typos all over the place. I’m a perfectionist. I’m not actually perfect.

That all being said (er, written), you would think sitting down every morning, opening the precious document that contains my novel and “winging it” would drive me up the wall. But the thing is, it doesn’t. And not having a solid plan, only a few fuzzy plot points and an indefinite ending up there somewhere in my head, is probably what keeps me averaging about 2,000 words per day.

Is making slow progress on a story, without a preset plan, terrifying? Of course. And that’s exactly why I keep writing it.When I first started writing Immiscible, the first book in this trilogy (argh, I still haven’t written a post on my love-hate relationship with trilogies. It’s coming. I promise), I had two elements of the story down: setting and characters. I knew I wanted it to be set at least a few hundred years from now, in a utopia that’s not your stereotypical utopia. I had three characters: Wes, Abigail and Caddie. The first scene I wrote was Abigail’s driving test.

To show you how much a book changes from start to [almost] finish, allow me to present to you these facts: the driving test scene was scrapped, Abigail is now named Abilene, Abbie for short, and Caddie no longer exists, replaced by a fatherly figure who also has another very important role in the trilogy, which I cannot mention without spoiling the entire “series” for you. My point is, it took a long time – almost two years – for an actual plot to form. That scene and those characters needed time to develop. And once they did, the story kind of just took off without warning, in a good way.

My absolute favorite part about writing a book is creating and solving my own mysteries. Once you have a basic idea of where you want a story to end, your job from that point forward is to fill in the missing pieces. In the case of this particular trilogy, though, the ending is still fuzzy. Where I thought a stand-alone book would end turned into a cliffhanger even I can barely handle, and now instead of hundreds of pages to fill, I have two more books to finish. It’s the constant thrill of filling this blank space with new life that makes this tolerable for me.

This morning I sat down to write a few scenes, one in the past and another back in the present. It took a little while to get into the flashback, because quite honestly, I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know where it was going. It started off with one sentence about tension between a father and daughter, and ended in heartbreak and a prince charming in disguise. I don’t think these events would have been quite as satisfying (or emotional …) if I’d planned them ahead of time.

As a writer, you have the unique capacity to surprise yourself. Things will tumble out of your head and onto paper every now and then, and part of you will refuse to believe you were the one who wrote them. It may not be the best series of events, there might be sentence structure issues and, if you’re like me, you’re probably going to spell a certain character’s name three different ways in the same scene before you decide which one you want to stick with.

When you sit down to write and realize you don’t know what’s coming next, stop thinking. Close your eyes for a second, picture your characters standing here, there, look over the last few scenes, pinpoint your next major plot point and decide how your characters are going to end up there. Sometimes you literally just have to start typing. Let dialogue happen. Make someone angry at someone else and don’t reveal why until you’ve figured it out yourself.

When you have no clue where your novel is headed – that’s when you immerse yourself, completely, in your literary world.

Without a plan, over time you learn to trust yourself. You learn to trust that deep down, the story is there, waiting to be written.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

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