While “planners” tend to know intimate details about their plots and characters this omnipotent knowledge can often prove more troublesome then the blind faith of “seat of the pants” writers. Many writers find their story and characters seem to take on a life of their own. Sometimes, that life simply won’t be boxed into pre-arranged plans. Like raising a two-year-old you have to be prepared for plot tantrums and the stubborn mind-of-its-own your story may develop.
Character Black Holes
Characters, just like living creatures, grow and change with time and experience. Sometimes, these changes are controlled by you, the writer. They’ve been written into the story and each of the conflict elements of the plot have been designed to bring about these changes.
No matter how much time you spend “getting to know” your character, however, you’ll continue to discover new and remarkable aspects as you write. These new details can lead your character down roads you never considered. Characters can come alive for you on the page and you’ll find aspects, even those you already set into your notes, will change to suit the altering image of the characters as they become more concrete in your mind.
The Missing Element
Human fallacy is normal. Regardless of the intricate and intense detail you added to your plot before you began there are occasions when you will miss vital elements that impact your novel and its characters. These may be points you never considered or that come about because of other changes that occur during the writing process. They could be related to your inexperience with a subject that arises in your novel or be connected to research you never uncovered.
An Unexpected Plot Detour
With changing characters come changing roads. While you might have planned a grand action scene in the fourth chapter you may discover as you write that you spend more time in other scenes. An opportunity for interesting character development may arise earlier that would be worth exploring or a character who had originally been invented to perform a small role becomes larger than life and deserves a greater portion of your book.
These sorts of black holes, missing elements and unexpected detours cannot always be planned before you begin writing. You could ignore them and write on, strictly adhering to your original plot but forcing strictures on your plot or character can lead to devastating consequences.
DC 1: Shallow Worlds
A novel has a world all of its own. It’s an alternate reality that requires a writer to ooze a sense of existence into it. If your story is based in London then you need to echo London as you write but you haven’t really created London, you’ve created a fictional mirror of a physical place. The setting is enriched by the elements that get built into this fictional mirror and bring it to life, a world of its own.
DC 2: 2D Character
Adhering strictly to your original character details can leave your character without the integrity and depth needed for a fully realized character. 2D characters lack the elements that allow readers to connect and feel compassion for them. Readers have to care about your characters or they will not care what happens to them. Your original plan can create a sketch of your character but it never contains the multiple facets and depths your character develops as it takes on a life of its own.
DC 3: Ragged Plot
Forcing yourself to write the scenes planned without flexing to allow changes will leave you with a ragged plot. Even if every element was planned and laid in a perfect form, the mood of your scenes will feel disjointed and lack the continuity that a novel needs. Allowing yourself to flow with your story will help your scenes connect and tie to each other. Planning can strengthen your conviction to write but remaining in the rut of your plan when called to detour will tear the fluid consistency of your plot into ragged shreds.
DC 4: Writer’s Block
Finally, there is one significant sign that a writer is stubbornly refusing to bend to the will of their story or characters. It’s often named “writer’s block” and while it has many causes, planners suffer it greatest when they’re trying to force their story into the mold they originally created for it. The longer you try to write a scene that just doesn’t belong there the harder it will be to write anything at all. The more often you mention you characters dead father, when your character is firmly insistent that the father will appear in a later scene, the harder you’ll find it to keep writing.
Ultimately, the only way to avoid these plot humps is to allow for change. True planners must learn to relax the stricture of their habits. Take on some of the easy-going tendencies of “seat of the pants” writers. The best writers find a balance in the two degrees that work best for them. There will always be challenges as you write your novel’s first draft; it is these challenges that strengthen our resolve and give our novels the depth and passion that readers (and publishers) are looking for.