Writing A Novel: When Plotting Goes Pear-Shaped

book on a white wooden table
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Originally published April 16th, 2019

This probably isn’t much of a surprise to most of you, dear readers, but it’s a truth that I’m going to state anyway: planning and writing a novel is hard. You’ll have moments of crippling self-doubt. There will be times when you want to give up, even if writing a book is your absolute dream. Frankly, you’ll wonder if what you’re writing is even slightly passable, and worry that nobody wants to read it.

I’ve found that a lot of these low moments tend to occur during the plotting process. I usually start plotting after I’ve got a good idea of who my characters are. That way, I can plan scenes and events that feel true to the personalities I’ve created. Last week, I began to draft the plot of a novel idea I’ve been working on for some time now. I wish I could tell you that this process went swimmingly, and I’m super happy with my complete plan. Unfortunately, that would be a lie. I don’t even have a plan, and I doubt I will for some time.

After days of agonising over plot holes, inconsistencies, and irritatingly contrived plot twists, I realised that it might be time to step away from this idea for a while. Ultimately, I couldn’t find a way to make it work. That’s not for lack of trying; I spent hours and hours thinking the story over, trying to find a way to plug the holes and smooth over the shaky areas. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion. I reached the point where I thought that maybe, just maybe, my idea isn’t so good after all.

This realisation left me pretty devastated. I went into a slight anxiety spiral and quickly convinced myself that I’m an awful, uncreative writer who’ll never be able to write a book and will be a total failure in life. The only thing that brought me out of this self-pity spiral was talking about my feelings on Twitter, and getting some kind and supportive responses from fellow writers. I realised that I’m not alone in feeling this way. More to the point, I concluded that just because this particular idea hasn’t worked out, that doesn’t mean that I’m doomed to fail for all eternity.

So, we come to the advice portion of this post. If you ever find yourself in a situation similar to the one I’ve described – trying to untangle a tricky plot that won’t behave – it’s not the end of the world. Sure, it’s irritating, and a little bit disappointing. But it doesn’t define your worth as a writer, and certainly not as a person.

Don’t try to force yourself to fix a story idea that isn’t working. Step away from it for a while. Start a new writing project, or take a break from writing altogether. You can always come back to your discarded idea another time when you can look over it with fresh eyes. And if you don’t come back to it, and decide to shelve a story indefinitely – well, that’s fine too. You will have other ideas – better ideas, probably! You’ve got this. It might not always feel like it, but you do.

Has anyone else struggled with a particularly tricky plot idea in the past? How did you cope with the situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

2 thoughts on “Writing A Novel: When Plotting Goes Pear-Shaped

  1. Hi, Yes I’ve definitely hit that spot where a plot can’t quite match up with what your characters are involved in. I’ve only had a couple of novels published and am working on a third so I still consider myself a new writer. However, to overcome almost any obstacle I’ve discovered that if I create a totally new character, they don’t have to feature for very long, just enough to make some small change in the way the plot characters are headed. To date, this helps me progress.


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