Tuesday, December 2

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, December 02, 2014 6 comments
I'm at the stage with my current project where all forces collide in the big finale, which means, weirdly enough, this is where I stop to do a big re-assessment. Those of you who outline from the get-go may find this strange. But those who don't, whose process is organic,* have probably found themselves doing the same thing.
Photo credit: bjwebbiz from morguefile.com 

Organic writing is seldom a linear process. The writing itself is always discovery, so new revelations will need to be woven back through the piece. This will involve wrong turns sometimes. You might have to let yourself follow interesting tangents because they will help you understand the characters better. But those peripheral events might not prove worthy of inclusion in the final cut, or they could be reduced from full scenes to a few sentences or paragraphs of narrative summary. Discovery might mean traversing many dull miles until you reach the good stuff. Then it's simply a matter of moving the "beginning" later, and ditching the less interesting "prequel" material.

This re-assessment can't really be bypassed, in my experience. Your intuition will nag at you, will sabotage your efforts to move forward until you stop, figure out where you are being drawn (and why), then make the path behind smoother, as if this plot were as linear as a marked trail.  Only then, when you have a clear picture of what your story is "about"--what its focal theme is--can the best ending emerge.

Here are some key questions to ask when you reach the brink and your gut says "don't move forward yet."

  • What patterns seem to be emerging that are parallel among my story lines? If none, how could I develop more parallelism among my main plot and subplots?
  • How might I express these parallel patterns as a theme? (For example, characters all struggling to be honest with each other might reveal themes like "be careful who you trust," or "the truth will set you free.")
  • What themes have I discovered that could be more strongly developed from page 1?
  • Which threads can I reasonably weave through the conclusion? Which should simply be removed? Which need to be downplayed--the scenes radically trimmed? Where can I reassign actions to more important characters? 
  • What subplots emerged in the middle that needed to be seeded earlier? 
  • What have characters revealed late in the story that could be better foreshadowed?

At what points do you re-assess your story? What questions do you ask yourself?

*this term is emerging to replace the somewhat derogatory "seat-of-your-pants writer" or "pantser." It acknowledges the power of intuition as more important than formulas for creating powerful stories.


  1. Somewhere in the middle, just before the climax. Then again towards the end, when I see things I missed the first time! LOL

    1. Sounds pretty typical for an organic process. In my experience, being too linear (restricting yourself to writing one scene after another without ever going back) leads to less believable and dynamic writing.

  2. Ah, this is so helpful. I have trouble moving forward from this spot in a manuscript AND accepting that sometimes these tangents might serve only to provide more understanding of a character. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.

    1. The most important thing is to always believe that every tangent is useful in the long run to your process and to fertilize the story. It is never wasted effort to follow characters where the naturally would go. Your wisdom deepens with every step.

  3. Usually when I hit a bump in the road that neither my imagination nor my outline can get me over. At that point I have to sit down and talk it out, try to make connections between characters and conflicts and figure out how to get around what's holding up the story.

    1. It's interesting that even those who outline can hit junctures like this.