When it comes to plotting a novel, I seem to always want to leap tall buildings with a single bound. But the reality is, there’s a lot less leaping and a lot more eking out. Progress is made bit by bit — sometimes millimeter by painful millimeter. And I do mean painful.
Well, maybe it’s not all painful. I mean, it is — there’s no denying that — but the process of plotting/outlining also brings with it a lot of joy and giddiness. There’s nothing quite like the magic of making those unexpected discoveries that transform your story. Those little gems you uncover always make up for the dirt and gravel you have to sift through in order to find them.
So maybe not being able to leap tall buildings isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not if leaping them means missing the nice landmarks in between those buildings.
Plotting is foremost on my mind right now, since I’m in the thick of the outlining stage. I naïvely thought that it would take a week or two at most, and then I’d be ready to dive right into writing the first draft. Maybe a few months ago, that might have been the case, but since then, I’ve gotten a lot more disciplined about trying to establish a sound story structure before starting my first draft. And while I’m convinced this is absolutely the right thing to do (and I can already see it paying dividends!), I’m also adjusting to the fact that… it’s hard.
Did I mention it’s hard?
It’s like trying to use a new muscle I’ve never really used before. It takes a while to strengthen, and as we’ve established many times before, I have very little patience. There I go wanting to leap tall buildings again.
Part of the difficulty I’m having is translating the story structure to the actual scene creation. Using Larry Brooks’s fantastic Story Engineering, I was able to come up with my key story milestones — a feat in and of itself, because this is the first time I’ve attempted to do this for a novel, and it’s made all of the difference in truly solidifying the story for me. Now I thought that identifying these 9 story milestones would make the process of developing the actual scenes super easy. A reasonable assumption, no? After all, I’d now identified my 9 buildings — shouldn’t I be able to just leap from one to the other with apparent ease?
Um… not quite.
I have been able to develop the scenes much more easily than I did before I adopted this method, yes. But I’m still left with big gaping holes where there should be scenes, and of course, they’re in that dreaded “middle” part of the story, where details always seem to be murky for me. I tend to have a good vision of the beginning, a good idea of how the story will end, but the middle part… scary territory.
If I were working on a movie, I’d probably have more than enough scenes to work with now. Screenplays are like half marathons (hey, there’s that running analogy again — I just can’t seem to get away from those :)); the progression is similar to a full marathon, but fundamentally, there are just fewer miles. It takes much less time to your halfway point and much less time to get to the finish line.
A novel, on the other hand, is much longer than the average screenplay, and just as a full marathon has twice the number of miles as a half, a novel has about twice as many scenes as a screenplay, too. Which means more scenes to develop. Gah, it’s enough to make my brain freeze up.
Just as I’ve completed every full marathon I’ve ever run, I know I’ll get to my finish line with this, too. Millimeter by millimeter movement may not be the same as leaping tall buildings, but it’s forward motion, and having run 5 marathons, I know that any kind of forward motion (I don’t care if it’s running, walking, or crawling!) will get you closer to the finish line. One way or another, you get there.
Scene gaps are no fun. But the only way to get rid of them is to keep chipping away at them.