Complex Plotting: Zero = Four

For months—maybe even over a year—I have been frustrated with my first book, because I could not find a plot in it. With all the fiction I’ve read over the course of my life, and all the stories read to me before I could even read, and all those classes where teachers made me analyze and chart plot structures, how in the world could I create a book without a plot?! The possibility had never even occurred to me. And once I began to scrutinize the possibility, I was even more disheartened to find it true. Because what else could be the problem?

But after my sixth attempt to outline my plot points—always getting stuck in the same place—I tried a new approach, and finally realized my problem. It’s not that I don’t have a plot. It’s that I have four plots running concurrently, and the primary focus is the romantic one, so no traditional plotline gets the limelight enough to emerge as the official identifiable plot. In fact, you might argue that all four of these plotlines are actually story arcs—meaning they span at least part of the series, rather than being resolved in a single book.

So if you’re a “pantser,” and you’re having trouble unearthing that plot that seems like it’s hiding or nonexistent, I suggest writing out a play-by-play outline, and then an extremely vague outline of points, and see if you can divide things up by topic.

If you can’t abide pinning down your work like that, write down your ideas in different colored pens, and then take a look at what kinds of things ended up in each color. Surprise! You’ve drawn yourself a mind map, and now all you need to do is draw up the key. That’s what I did. Sometimes you just need to look at your thoughts differently to understand what’s going on and roll with it.

These are my plots, as I discovered them when I tried separating them out into categories (as defined by the parties involved):

  • Pandora
  • Temple
  • Noble
  • Romance

I suppose I could split “Romance” again, into “Gian & Labriella” and “Rome & Labriella“…but I would actually prefer to stick with a triangular effect. I want to use Gian to enhance and/or force out a definition of Rome and Labriella’s relationship, and use the nobles (and Pandora, and the temple) to further force it out of the shadows. That probably means I need to scatter Gian’s parts throughout the timeline a bit more, instead of having so many chapters between him and Labriella in the first book.

In my case, does the solution to having four plots entail untangling those plots? Or maybe picking just one per book? Ummm….Ew. I mean, I could do that, but I wove all those plots together subconsciously for a reason; they add depth to one another. At first glance it appears that there is no plot, because you’re walking through the characters’ lives. It’s those elements in their lives that brought them together, and that make up all those plots. Each is a festering issue that needs to be dealt with–and each starts out very small.

Part of the reason I’m so set on revising my first book again, is because I want to resolve either the noble plot or the temple plot (or both) by the end of the first book. I now suspect the noble plot will be more of an undercurrent that will come to a head on several supporting occasions. So I’m fixing my attention on the temple plot. If I start book one with the temple, then I should end book one with the temple. Otherwise, Labriella being considered a “runaway” becomes old news and eventually feels buried or ignored.

Previously the first book revolved around the question of whether Rome would allow Labriella to stay with him. But a few of my readers complained that they were running so many insecure circles around one another that it was slowing down and lengthening the story. And I agree. At least one set of circumstances needs to be sealed in by the end of the first book.

I feel like I’m trying to cram in a lot of things. But maybe, if I eliminate lengthy descriptions, consolidate scenes, and get rid of reflective dialogue, I might still be able to shorten things up. After all, my goal for revising this time around is to keep the plot moving.

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