Tightly Plotted or Loosey Goosey?

Even if you are a pantser instead of a plotter, at some point, if you write a story, you’re going to end up with a ‘plot.’ You need to make sure that the plot is tight and that each scene has a purpose, or you will come up with what some editors like to call an ‘episodic’ novel. That is when you have scenes that do not connect to the other scenes.

I am actually having that problem with my current manuscript. It is the second in a series and I have introduced a few new characters who will play a part later on, but in this story, they just come on stage long enough to impart information to my protagonist. I am aware of that, so I will have to go back through and revise to make sure they serve another purpose. An example of how I’m going to accomplish that is, an attack that was going to happen to another character, is now going to happen to one of the girls that previously had no purpose. Also, one of the vampires I introduced is now going to be a suspect. Sometimes you can combine the duties or roles of a few characters into one.

Take each of your scenes and ask yourself, if I took this scene out, would it change the story in any significant way?  I realize we become attached to some of our scenes for various reasons—snappy, clever dialogue; vivid, beautiful scenery descriptions; showcasing a character hobby that is near and dear to our own hearts, etc, but if that scene doesn’t connect with the other scenes, doesn’t have a purpose, then it has to go. As hard as it might be to let go, you must throw it out.

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If you just can’t stand to part with it, you can make it have a purpose. Mix in some of the clever dialogue and stunning descriptions in a scene where the heroine learns her deceased husband is, in fact, alive.

Another tip to make sure your scenes connect and your plot is tight, look at your scenes as a string of ‘and thens’.

For example…

Your Protagonist is in her ‘world’, maybe at work. And then…

A gunman takes over the building. Your protagonist is hiding. And then…

She learns he is there for her, and if she doesn’t show herself, he will start shooting her co-workers. She shows herself. And then…

We flash to a scene where a cop is heading to the scene. And then…

She realizes the gunman is her ex boyfriend. He shoots someone just to show her how far he’ll go and that she’d better do as he says. And then…

Flash back to the scene of the cop where he learns the man holding the hostages is his brother. And then…

Well, you get the picture. We wouldn’t want to stick a scene in there where her co-workers are having lunch at a chic restaurant and exchanging witty dialogue, unless, during the scene, they learn about the crisis. And maybe one of them has a spouse still in the building.

Take a look at your current WIP. Do you have a scene or character that serves no purpose? What ideas can you come up with to remedy that?

About Alicia:

I have edited for The Wild Rose Press since they opened their doors in 2006 (I edit for them under the name Ally Robertson). I have worked most often with Suspense and Paranormal manuscripts, although I have also edited other genres. Additionally, I am a freelance editor for myself and a proofreading editor for Finish the Story. I am a published author as well, with around eighteen titles currently out. My latest releases are stories for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds. I was commissioned as a launch author for their new platform and I have two Vampire Diaries stories and one Gossip Girl story released with them. My website is: www.AliciaDean.com I love to read, love to write, love to help other authors, and love discovering new stories. Other than that, my passions are MLB, Elvis Presley, and watching my favorite tv shows, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Dexter, Justified, etc)

19 thoughts on “Tightly Plotted or Loosey Goosey?

  • Excellent points, Alicia. If, in fact, you do have to delete a scene, stick the scene on your blog. It gives people an idea of several things. One, it shows your voice. Two, it gives some insight to that particular story. And it doesn’t hurt as bad when you cut it from your WIP. Just my take.

    • Thanks, Kathy. As my critique partner, you’ll need to help me keep an eye out for when I do this. Especially on my upcoming submission. 🙂 YES, that is a great idea. I will probably get around to doing that on my website one of these days.

  • Alicia, you are right about scenes needing to serve more than one purpose. Doing a revision edit where all I look for are ways to boost the weight or tension to the scenes has improved many of my manuscripts.

    • Ah, that’s a smart thing to do. If you go through one round of edits with the sole intention of making sure each scene is vital and has tension, that would really help. I think one of my shortcomings is that I don’t take enough time with my editing rounds (of my own stories), because I’m tired of them by that time. But definitely worth the effort. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wonderful advice, Alicia. Cutting a scene can be rather emotional for some authors. In the end though, most will agree the story’s pacing improves. I like Kathy’s suggestion of popping the cut scene on your blog. Could be fun for your fans! ~~Emmly Jane

    • Thanks, Emmly. I’m glad you found the advice helpful. Yes, it is very difficult to ‘kill our babies’ as I’ve heard it called, but sometimes, they just need to die. 🙂 I also like Kathy’s suggestion.

  • I’m struggling with some plot issues in my current WIP. The ‘And then…’ is a great tool and I’ll be using it as I work through my plot.

    I also loved your question…”if I took this scene out, would it change the story in any significant way?”

    I really like Kathy’s idea of posting a favorite deleted scene on your blog. I had’t thought of that. 🙂

    I’ve saved all of my deleted scenes and have actually reworked one to use in my book that’s coming this December.

  • I’m so glad you found the tips helpful. I’ll have to use that tool on my latest manuscript myself. 🙂 Best of luck with the latest story, and how cool that you’ve got your next MS partially written with deleted scenes! I’ve discovered I do that once in a while since I am writing a series. I’ll find something doesn’t fit in one book, but it will in the next one.

  • Fantastic, Alicia. You hit the nail right on the head with me. (Hey, watch that hammer!) In my YA book, Dizzy Blonde, there was a girl in the intense, beginning scene who sort of dropped off the face of the earth afterwards, lol. A couple of my beta-readers wondered where she went. So I erased one of the “bad boy’s” girlfriends–who also served no purpose–and replaced her with the chick from the first scene. Worked like a charm. I actually liked the story more after the “operation” 🙂

  • Haha. Hope I didn’t hurt you with that hammer. I have a violent streak, you know. Glad to know my tip worked in reality instead of just in theory. 🙂 But you didn’t need my tip, you figured it out on your own. Thanks for sharing an example of how this idea can work!

  • Great post. I always learn something from you. For one, I was confused about what episodic meant. I thought it mean something entirely different.

    Also, have I told you lately how brilliant you are? I’ve got five fives on Amazon! 🙂 So glad you’re my editor!
    Thanks!

    • Aw, Jess. Thank you! I am so glad you feel you learn something from me. Congratulations on the 5 star reviews…that’s phenomenal, but it has nothing to do with my briliance, LOL. You wrote a fabulous story and I helped you polish it a bit. I am going to pop over and check them out. So happy for you!

  • Excellent advice! I’m a pantser so this is a weak spot for me. If someone were to ask me why a scene was there my first instinct would be to say, “Because that’s how it happened in my head.” This also makes your characters rather purposeless and if they don’t have a purpose, the reader is not invested in finding out if they get what they’re after. I had a scene like this recently. It was a cute scene, but a friend who critiqued it, who also loved the scene, questioned what the hero was trying to accomplish. I felt like it was easy to see what he was trying to accomplish (prove to the heroine that, although he was a rock star, he could fit into her world). But my friend made me realize that I needed to pull that out more to increase the tension. Now he has something at stake in this cute scene. Thanks for sharing this, Alicia! It helped to drive the point home with me.

  • You’re welcome, MJ. Thank you for stopping by. It’s so great to see real examples from authors. I should have interviewed you and Anna for the Blog post, 🙂

  • Wonderful article, Alicia. With every word and suggestion from you, my mind kept going back to one particular scene in a wip I’m working on. Now I need to go look at that scene very closely to see why I thought of it at all, and see what it needs to mold it in tighter. 🙂
    Thanks and great post.

  • I love the “and then…” technique too! And I never quite understood “episodic” either. Thanks so much for another wonderful blog.

  • Great advice, Alicia. Like Leah, I love the “and then…” technique. Certainly puts things into perspective.

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