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Help! I’m Lost and Can’t Find My Way

By Ane Mulligan

I’d hit the 43,000-word mark in the fourth book in my Chapel Springs series. I knew the characters like I know myself. Better even, since I don’t pretend they don’t have faults. But the story stalled on me. It lacked the usual “feel” of its sister books. It was missing the heart. I had to force myself to write, and then I didn’t particularly care for what I wrote.

Brainstorming the POV characters didn’t fix it. I knew their lies, problems and motivation. It wasn’t the characters this time. Even the continuity of story was missing. I contemplated tossing the whole thing out, but something kept pulling me back. I prayed, okay whined to God and my CPs.

Then, the Hubs, Chef Son and I went out to dinner together. I introduced my problem during the salad course. By the time we’d finished the main course, I couldn’t wait to get back to work on it.

What did they tell me I had missed all this time?

The third character–my town. In each book in the series, the town as well as the POV characters had a problem that the residents worked together to overcome. I didn’t have one in this book. But by the end of dinner I sure did.

Of course, that in and of itself caused a lot of work for me. I had to deconstruct what I already had written and fit the new into it seamlessly. I broke chapters into scenes (that’s a whole other article) and slid new ones in. It made one of the wildest spreadsheets I’ve ever done.

And that’s when the second lesson was learned: Don’t stray from what works for you.

Rachel Hauck coined the word Planster. I loved it and adopted it. It’s exactly what I am. But I had digressed from what worked. I’d gone SOTP. Instead of my usual storyboard, I simply began to write. And for me, that doesn’t work.

When I storyboard, I start with a sticky note called “beginning” at the top left side of the board and another called “end” at the bottom right. Then I made a sticky note for each plot point that had to happen to get from point A (beginning) to point B (end). Once the board was covered in sticky notes, the plan came together. And that’s when I can let my characters loose and go SOTP.

I’m now back on track. The storyboard is finished. I’m excited about this book, and God even revealed the theme to me the moment I set that first sticky note up where it belonged.

Lesson learned.

Leaning AneAne Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist, a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar Hill, GA. You can find Ane at www.anemulligan.com or her Amazon author page.

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4 Responses to Help! I’m Lost and Can’t Find My Way

  1. I love brainstorming with my family, too, Ane. And good point about finding the method that works the way your brain works, whether that be totally plotting, totally flying by the seat of your pants, or something in between. Great post.

  2. Loved this post, Ane! It so describes me as well. I’m a “planster” (Great word, Rachel Hauck! Thank you!). And I also love to brainstorm with my family.

    Outstanding post! Thank you!

  3. Patricia S says:

    Ane, are you inside my brain? This is exactly what has happened with the book I’m working on. I’ve never used the sticky-note-plot-board, but I like it!

    The last couple of days I realized what is needed for this book. But rather than go back and start all over, because I work in Scrivener, I made Project notes for the next draft and am plowing on through to the end. But that’s easier at 60K than 43k. 😉

  4. Oh my goodness, Ane, I think you just revealed the problem with my current WIP. I’ve suffering from saggy middle and I didn’t know why. I knew how my heroine was responding to a town tragedy and how she would overcome it in the end to bring hope for her community but I was ignoring how the town was reacting. I think I’m also dealing with too long of a time frame.

    Can you suggest a good resource for storyboarding? The way you described the sticky notes sound like a technique that would work for me.