Thou shalt not lose sight of thy plot.
I remember writing my first novel and being so excited. I thought I had created a masterpiece. I emailed a few sample chapters to The Professor, as I lovingly refer to her. She called me the next day and asked me a question that made me think.
“How serious are you about wanting to write?”
Funny, I thought I already was writing. I told her, “Very serious. I love writing.”
She then told me we needed to meet. And that meeting changed everything. Not only did I learn that what I had typed was not writing, but that I truly had no idea what real writing entailed. Writing is not just coughing up a story. Anyone can do that. It is about developing a relationship with your characters. So much so that their world becomes the reader’s world and their journey (or plot) becomes the reader’s journey.
In the easiest of terms a plot is nothing more than the events your character’s life in a sequence. Again, simple?
Seemingly, but no.
A plot is like a stippled piece of art. From a distance it seems like a solid picture. Like: Jack and Jill go up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after. Easy right? The stippled art is one solid picture that we think is wonderful. But, on further inspection of the artwork, you realize there are thousands of tiny dots all working together to create that piece of art, and we see the intricacies. Like: Jill tricked jack into going up the hill and when they got to the top she pushed him down the hill for the insurance money. But when he didn’t die, Jill threw herself down hoping to die so she wouldn’t go to jail.
Plots are messy. Not only are there story arcs, character arcs, plot holes, plot devices and foreshadowing, but there is also subplot to work out. ARG! There is so much to worry over and edit out. Because in this mess we can sometimes lose focus of our main plot. Our main story arc.
I’ll tell you one thing that truly can help. After you have written your first draft front to end, you may want to physically write a run down of your plot chapter by chapter. Not an outline, but a paragraph or so of exactly what happened in the chapter.
Example: Chapter one. Jack married to Jill. He is at work. Jill meets him for lunch. Jill seems agitated, but says she is nervous about an interview later. Jack brushes it off goes back to work. Jill texts him two hours later and says she wants Jack to meet her for a romantic dinner at the top of their favorite hill. He agrees.
After you finish this process for each chapter, you must then go through each chapter and ask yourself, “Did this scene add in any way to the plot. Did the dialogue further my story or character? Did it move us forward?” If the answer is no, you have a useless scene that will best serve your deleted file. (I keep a file called “thebooktitle extras”. With everything I delete, in case I happen to need it back for some reason.)
If I am writing about Jack and Jill and in chapter three Jack takes a trip to the local bar to cheat on Jill, great! Leave it in there. That could be why Jill pushes him down the hill, he’s a cheating dirt bag and she knows it. But if in chapter three he spends the whole chapter at the bar chatting with his Dad about his day at work, it probably needs to be cut down or cut out completely.
You may love the scene between Jack and his dad. You may think it shows real growth in their relationship. Cut it. So much of my stories, never make it on the page. It’s backstory or side plot that just has to go. I would estimate that I cut at least one third of every story I write in the first edit. Mainly because the scene doesn’t matter in the long run.
I’ll be honest here; it hurts to delete that line of dialogue you really loved, or that cute thing your character did that struck a chord with you, but your story will be better because you trimmed the fat so-to-speak.
Good luck staying on plot!