Back to Basics

WARNING: Beware of falling plot lines and crooked character arcs!building blocks

I’m in the home stretch! (I don’t feel that exclamation point, but I put it in because I wish I did feel it. Let me explain…)

I’m *this close* to finishing a draft of my latest work in progress. As usual, when I’m 90% done with a manuscript, I start doubting everything. My thoughts go something like this:

I have too much going on.
I don’t have enough going on.
The romance is getting lost in the world-building.
How do I end this freakin’ thing?
I have too many villains.
I haven’t made the stakes high enough.
Will anyone want to read this?
…And on and on.

Does this happen to you when you’re nearing the end of a work? If you’re a pantser, it probably does. I’m curious if die-hard plotters or outliners have this trouble.

Anyhoodle, it’s happening to me right now. So what do I do? Do I take a break from my manuscript like I’m tempted to? Do I start something new? Do I jump off a cliff?

I don’t think I’ll do any of those things. What I’m going to do is take it back to the basics. The basics of plot, the basics of character, the basics of what I fell in love with when I first envisioned this story, that spark that caught flame and fueled the last 7 months I’ve spent writing it.

What are those basics? It all goes back to GMC (Goals, Motivation, Conflict) for me.

I am a worksheet addict. I love worksheets. If I weren’t already married (happy anniversary, honey!), I would propose to my worksheets. One of my favorites is titled CHARACTER ARCS. It has columns for the hero and heroine and rows for Physical Description, Exposition (character’s backstory), Inciting Incident, Crisis 1, Turning Point 1, Falling Action/Build-up to New Crisis, Crisis 2…etc. leading up to Big Black Moment, Big Epiphany or Moment of Character Triumph, Resolution. I gleaned an understanding of these story features from various workshops over the years, including a particularly helpful one on the Yahoo Writing Workshop, which is free and awesome and if you’re not already on it, you should join ASAP.

As I fill in the events of the story, I note how the characters are acting and reacting to those events. Hopefully, their actions and reactions demonstrate the change that happens internally. And if I’m really good, I can answer the question: What brings about change in the character? Hint: In romance, the answer should have to do with love.

If I can complete my CHARACTER ARC worksheet, I have a completed novel, at least in theory. So I always go back to it when I find myself stuck. Often, I discover I have an incomplete understanding of the character’s goals and motivations. I have plot, but I haven’t sufficiently reeled in a reader’s interest with compelling characters. I’ve found that the things that make characters most compelling are always goals (that at first seem impossible, otherwise there’s no conflict and thus no story) and motivations (that are relatable and sympathetic).

What basics do you go back to when you’re struggling with a work in progress?

(Photo above courtesy of WANA Commons)

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About Jessi Gage

Jessi lives with her husband and children in the Seattle area. She’s a passionate reader of all genres of romance, especially anything involving the paranormal. Ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, weres, faeries...you name it, she’ll read it. As for writing, she's sticking to Highlanders and contemporaries with a paranormal twist (for now). A career student (aka indecisive and inquisitive bookworm), Jessi brings her love of research to her worlds and characters. Her guiding tenet in her writing is that good always trumps evil, but not before evil gives good one heck of a run for its money. The last time she imagined a world without romance novels, her husband found her crouched in the corner, rocking.
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4 Responses to Back to Basics

  1. Mae Clair says:

    Why is we always get those horrible moments of doubt when we’re close to finishing a manuscript? For me, I also get them when I’m done and have written “the end.”

    Is it good enough? Are my characters interesting? Did I tell an intriguing story? It’s so easy to drive yourself nuts with that stuff.

    My notes are few and far between when I write, so there is never a “going back” for me, it’s more like unraveling a knot. I keep (mentally) picking at the problems until I can resolve them and feel the knot unravel.

    I am, however, going to attempt to plot and make detailed character worksheets with my next project (it’s that involved, I think I have to). It will be a new experience for me and interesting to see if I can handle it.

    I know you’ll work out your hurdles, Jessi. And I have no doubt the results will be awesome!

  2. Amy Raby says:

    It’s so hard at the end because by that point I tend to be sick of the book and I’ve lost my perspective on it. I am bored by it, because I’ve been living and breathing the book for months, so I worry that readers will be bored too.

    Your worksheets are great! I often pull out a worksheet when I feel like I’m losing control of my story. What I try to do is simplify, simplify, simplify. I think most stories lean toward being too complicated and are improved by paring them back to their core themes and arcs.

  3. Pingback: So What’s Under Your Kilt? | theinnerwildkat

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