What do you do when you can't pick plot points?

writing

#1

I’m an outliner type of person. Which is very useful for building up a natural flow of events in your story and gives you a good idea of what you’ll be writing. However–I have a problem. I can hardly move past this stage. Why?

Say I have my story, beginning, middle and end. Because of three act structure, I have a general idea of how things will go: lead is pulled into the story by the inciting event, there’s a catalyst, a low point for the hero, etc etc. I’ve got my concept and a sense of the stories tone or general direction. And sometimes I know this particular scene will be the catalyst, or this one will be the climax. Usually, however, I try to write down my story elements, like “plot point one, inciting event, etc” and match that to a scene or image I’ve come up with so I don’t get too bogged down in details. Sadly, one of two things happens:

A: I write a super detailed scene that is lengthy and out of touch with the rest of the story. Trying to make it fit into the broader strokes of the story is useless, and instead, I get caught up on a tiny inconsequential moment/detail/plot hole within the scene. This makes me lose sight of much bigger inconsistencies with the scene’s logic or structure, and strung together, all these detailed scenes translate to (very pretty) poorly connected nonsense.

B: I have all of my story scenes or images jotted down… Then I look at the most important story elements, like inciting events, key events, or climax. I can’t decide which should go where and become paralyzed with indecision. While I can chop off a few ideas doing this, I haven’t gotten any further then that. No matter how many times I think it over or ask myself Important Writer Questions, nothing seems to clear my mind enough to make any choice.

Writers, do you struggle with this? What have you done to fix the problem? Have you fixed the problem?


#2

When I get stuck, I either start writing on a part of the story where I know what happens, if I have any idea of where to go from that point. Or I try to add additional conflict. The thing is, usually when we get stuck, it’s because the story in on itself is on a standstill.


#3

I mean this in the best and most kind way: shut up and write.

It sounds like you’re getting too caught up in your head and your outline - also it’s a first draft! Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing and worry about about the amount of details and all that later. Just get it down.

That method kind of sucks if you upload as you write, but but you can do this gradually. So if you write 10 chapters as a buffer - you go back and edit when you’ve hit #10.

You can always try and just write the first draft before uploading. And you don’t have to write it in onrder, since you mentioned you have problems with the order of things. So, when you have key events planned out - write them.

Basically, just get to the writing, mate.


#4

I like the idea of trying to do things in order of how you think of them rather than from beginning to end-- currently I’ve been trying to work backwards based off of the ending of my story, since I have a pretty good idea of what it is. I should’ve clarified that I’m not on my first draft, I’m like three or four in at this point and have gone back to the outline drawing board.


#5

Aaahh… Hm. As someone who doesn’t plan, I don’t know how to help you there. I thought you were on your first draft - or didn’t get around to it because of the planning.

Anyways, I guess you can still try and just write things up as you think of them. Whatever gets you to the finish line :slight_smile:


#6

It’s interesting to me that you say you stick to a three act structure, but fixate on your climax and your inciting incident. I also base my outlines on a three act structure, but I focus on the beginning of each act and the midpoint of the novel instead of the classic English class diagram.

I always think of my midpoint as the place where the story shifts. Something changes so drastically that it changes the protagonist’s course or makes them reassess things very seriously (I’ve had murders at the midpoint, serious injuries, and something revealed that changes a character’s perception of other characters). The beginning of act three is usually where things have been going pretty okay until they go horribly wrong (and usually this event pushes the protagonist toward the climax) and the beginning of act two is typically when new information emerges and a character has to do something about it. After my outlines are divided up, it’s so much easier to fill in the blanks between those main points. And most importantly, those points serve a clear purpose. It’s much easier to figure out what kind of scene is necessary when you know the purpose it needs to serve going forward.

I couldn’t tell you for certain what your trouble is with inciting incidents and plot points, but I’ve written scenes like you’re describing and sometimes they’re super helpful and informative in character development, but I’ve written a lot of those scenes where they don’t quite work with where the story actually ends up going. Keep it in mind to inform the story, but don’t get really stuck on those scenes. It can be tempting to write the scenes you want, but I’ve found it is so much easier to write linearly so your major scenes jive with what comes before them.


#7

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but doesn’t the order sort of speak for itself if you’re using these terms? An inciting incident would have to happen first, climax toward the end, and the key events build on each other toward the climax, so I assume they’d fall into a natural order just by necessity of one scene relying on the information of a prior scene.

Are you currently writing scenes out of chronological order? I’m a serial outliner (I have waaay more outlines in various stages than stories I’ve completed), but I’ve never been able to write out of chronological order.


#8

i dont really have that problem. the arcs i am writing are only like 4 to 6 parts until i move on to the next main plot XD but my story does sometimes feel as if it was rushed.


#9

Sorry, I was just giving the inciting incident as an example-- although now that you say that, I do tend to picture inciting incidents really well in most of my work. It just comes a lot more naturally to me than the midpoint-- I’m not a middle person, as you may be able to tell lol. I’m wondering if some of this comes from me not know which kind of questions to ask myself when trying to pick a scene to go with a story element. Like, an ending and a beginning can be boiled down and identified fairly easily (at least for me) while I find other spots, like pinch points and mid points, a lot harder to define-- and thus harder to pick punchy, effective scenes for.


#10

Sorry, I should elaborate. So, for example: I’ll have one card that says “key event” or another type of story element. Then on another card I might have “card ride between character A and B” or “trip to the petting zoo.” So it isn’t detailed enough to get an order, per say. This is partially because I am neurotically detail oriented and am trying to pull back from tiny details to focus on the bigger narrative. My problem with earlier drafts was that I would have these long, detailed passages, and a story with characters, setting, etc, but the actual story underneath would be very hard to read or understand. There would basically be little to no plot, or a plot that made zero sense.


#11

That does clarify a bit! It sounds to me as though you’ve got a series of snapshots, some of which may fit into your story, and some of which may not. I would try sketching out the bones of the central conflict of your story. Do you have a sense of the main conflict?


#12

This is a process I use, because it seems you and I have the same trouble (getting bogged down by details and aiming to control everything.) Bear in mind, you simply need a line or two of description to fill out everything I’m about to tell you. See:

  1. Jot down story premises that encompass beginning, middle and end. Example: Main character falls for worst enemy and must convince her overprotective brothers he’s the one that she wants.
  2. Break down the main character to develop their arc (i.e., what drives the plot forward.) Example: Sara Gillis 16 y.o., external goal to makeover high school bully and take him to prom, internal conflict is people think she can’t take care of herself; has an ally, Becca.
  3. Ensure the stakes are high and the tension is sustainable. Example: Sara is helping Jacob to score an internship with his CEO dad. Later, (higher stakes) she develops feelings for Jacob,but if she can’t show he’s not the monster people think he is, she’ll miss her shot at love.
  4. Begin outlining, but you need a rough estimate of your target word count. (I gauge my word count goals by what’s standard in the genre I’m writing. Usually, I go for about 80K-100K words total.) Using the character arc, plug your story into this Formula:
  • 10% Setup - Introduce character and inciting event.
  • 15% New Situation - Wherein you open up Act 1 or the Doorway of No Return.
  • 25% Progress - Show your character attempting to accomplish their external goal but being foiled by their internal conflict or flaw and thwarted by their antagonist.
  • 25% Complications & Higher Stakes - Act 2. Ratchet up the tension. The character realizes at the midway point that they must ‘change or die,’ but they don’t yet know how to overcome their flaws.
  • 20% The Final Push - This is the climax of your story. Be sure to include a “Lights Out” moment when your main character fails dramatically and all hope is lost. Give them some time to recoup, discover some info or something they forgot they had that can help them. Then, let them ‘win’ the final battle.
  • 5% or so Aftermath - Wherein you wrap up everything in a tidy bow and slap it with The End.

Lastly, it works best, to me, if you don’t think of the scenes you want to use. Rather, think of how your characters might respond every step of the way along the plot points. How would your character react to the inciting event, the increasing stakes, the mirror moment when they have to confront themselves? These aren’t just scenes. They’re the story. I hope this information helps. This is long-winded, I know, but it seemed the problem you were running into was not seeing the forest for the trees.

With the method I outlined above, you take each corner of the forest in tiny increments and focus on them individually (which is what you seem to already be doing). And, then you marry those components with the outline at large. Just keep in mind you really only need a few lines description for each percentile listed above.


#13

lol when i read this i am like wut? i just write XD i dont think about all this my story is pretty action packed but only has short moments of going more in depth.


#14

I can certainly understand the pantsing way of life. It seems so much simpler sometimes. But I use outlines because I’m a fallible human being, and I forget all my best ideas if I don’t write them down. :slight_smile: :smile:


#15

okay. :joy::joy::joy:


#16

What themes are you exploring? How well do you know your characters? What’s the conflict? Those might be the things that are tripping you up. I make sure I have that information down before I do serious writing/outlining etc…


#17

I pick something at random and go with it.