When It Feels Like You’re Squeezing Your Story
Story planning helps you write faster. There’s no doubt about that. Planning is why writers who start as pantsers convert to planning. It really does help. You can focus on each scene and know how it fits into the overall story.
Story structure helps you navigate the highs and lows of your story and plan for major turning points that move the story in a new direction.
Depending on which story structure you choose to use, you’ll find a list of must-have story events. The Hero’s Journey has 12 points, Save the Cat has 15 beats, John Trub’s Anatomy of Story has 22 steps. And, the 7-Point Story Structure has seven. The fabulous plotting tool Plottr has 17 different ready to use templates to help you set up your plot outline.
If you are a planner, you spend time writing notes for each major event, the chapters, and each scene in your novel. And then comes writing.
But something happens as you write. Characters speak and take action in ways you hadn’t planned. Although the story isn’t derailed, you make subtle shifts in scene order or character choices that shift from the original plan.
Although all story structures are meant as guidelines, you find yourself trying to squeeze the story into the structure you chose. And it feels awkward. How will you get from the scene you just wrote to that major plot turn that theoretically comes next in your story? If you write that major plot turn now, it will feel out of place and illogical.
Stop trying to squeeze your story!
Listen to Your Characters
Planning is logical. Storytelling is intuitive. Left brain, right brain call them what you will. Planning, like editing, uses completely different brain circuits. While you are writing, stay in intuitive mode.
Trying to jam your story into a format can crush your storytelling flow. You know what it’s like when you’re in the flow. You characters take charge and make the scene happen. They say things you never planned. They take actions that are nowhere in your outline scene notes.
Those creative adjustments make you feel as though your story is going off track. But if you pay attention to the characters, you find they are doing the right thing for the story. They are being themselves. And you are in touch with your characters.
Your characters help you write your story. When you keep going with the characters, you’ll find that the story still falls into place. You may end up with a scene or two you hadn’t planned, or a scene that jogs the story in a new way. Keep writing and trust the process.
If you overthink and try to confine the characters to your pre-planned outline, your story will feel squeezed. Allow your mind the freedom to create, to let your characters express their traits by saying an doing what they need to do.
You’ll find when you reach the logical editing process, and you’ll be surprised how you still meet the major turning points and beats of your story. Planning helps you keep your story goals as you write. The characters fill in the action. Even though they may change from your original plan, the original major story events are still there.
The next time you feel like you’re trying the squeeze your story into your structure, keep going with your characters and write.