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Plotting to the End

One writer in my critique group wrote wonderful first chapters in a unique voice with humorous characters. All of us loved his writing. BUT he only wrote first chapters. He never got beyond that first push. Another writer wrote a first chapter so gripping that she won first prize in a novel competition that required only the first chapter for submission. She never finished the novel.

Working through the plot and characters for 80,000 words is a long and arduous task. How do you face the blank pages each day, calling for you to invent new plot devices, new character quirks, new…stuff. Maybe you’d better get to the laundry first.

One of my favorite quotes has to do with how you can’t edit a blank page. So write down anything to get going and keep going. Edit later. Another tip I often use is to tell myself that I’m writing the book so I can make anything, absolutely anything happen. Open up your mind to the universe. And the third tip is when what you’re writing is boring to you, it will be boring t

o the reader, so skip the boring parts.

We can have dozens of wonderful plot possibilities in our imagination, but we can also find many ways of delaying the work. One way is to spend countless hours drafting an outline. Maybe an outline of several books, so you can decide which one would be best. Outlining plot ideas is a good way to postpone actually writing one. Choose the most intriguing and doable idea right now and go for it.

Focus on one story idea and keep at it until it’s finished. It will be a real challenge since you have to consider characterizations, plot, place, etc. and basically how to engage your reader. A lot to handle. You’ll run into roadblocks and mind blocks, and when you do, let your mind go and write down anything to get you through that. This is only the first draft. Plenty o

f time to revise and edit. Choose the most intriguing and doable idea right now and go for it. Focus and finish your book.

A common question novelists get from readers is, “Do you plan out and plot your books before writing?” This is summed up as “Are you a pantster or a plotter?” Pantster is seat of your pants. I tend to be a pantster and consider my first draft the “outline” for the book. Some people are plotters and lay out the entire book in an outline before starting it. Either way is okay and has good points in its favor.

The best thing I did as a beginning novelist was to join the Maryland Writers Association ( and take part in one of its critique groups. I learned so much from the honest and sometimes harsh feedback I received from the group. These groups usually work by having two or more group members submit 20 pages or so of their novel to the group ahead of time. At the meeting, members take turns providing feedback. As a writer, you are constantly making decisions on word use, characterization, plot points, etc. Did you make the right one? Hard to tell unless you get honest feedback from other writers and from readers. First recommendation is to join a critique group.

Critique groups also help when you slip up on the details. Your character was drinking coffee in one scene and tea in the next, has blue eyes in chapter 1 and brown eyes in chapter 2. Etc.

The Maryland Writers’ Association has 11 chapters statewide and most chapters as well as MWA are offering monthly zoom webinars MWA also has a Novel Exchange Group in which you can ask for readers of your novel. Of course, the idea is you reciprocate.


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