Maureen Pratt, CAN Member-at-Large

Maureen Pratt

Hello, again! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog about the art and craft of writing. This month’s topic is, “Help! Where’s my story?!” or, “What to do when your story goes one way while you go another.”

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, plotting or outlining is often an essential part of the publication process. From the first query to the last book cover blurb, most of us try to envision the beginning, middle and end of a work before we dive in.

But, as we authors know, as hard as we might work on those early ideations, “things happen” once we get started. New facts come to light. A secondary character takes center stage. A plot thread we knew was right suddenly becomes oh-so-wrong.

How do we handle these and other creations of the creative process? First of all…

Don’t panic! Writing is rarely a completely linear process, otherwise we’d never have need to revise what we first put down on paper. Yes, it takes extra energy to go back and edit, or even to begin again. But each of us wants to put forth our absolutely best work, so some degree of discovery and subsequent rewriting or re-plotting is inevitable. And, it can bring the finished piece to a new, deeper level – something that we also strive for. So…

Noodle or doodle over the new revelation. Is the new fact a new focus for your article? Does it bring out something that would have been hidden away if you hadn’t dug deep for it? Is that secondary character someone who can drive your story better than another one you’d been working with? Are you having more fun/insight with the plot twist that just dropped in your lap? Use your instincts as a storyteller to weigh the new and decide whether your work would be the better for retooling. Then…

Take a step back. Ask yourself if you’re under the influence of something you’ve recently seen or read. When we’re in a creative mode, our senses are usually heightened for details in the world around us. It’s natural to pull in plots, people, and other elements of that world, including the other creative work we’re exposed to. I don’t mean plagiarism, but rather the power of suggestion. Some authors are so wary of this that they will not read or watch any other work until they’ve finished their own project. You want your piece to be totally you, so when new, unexpected elements crop up in your work, do regard them through the prism of potential outside influence. And, if they pass the “test,” then…

Tug and pull at the fabric of your story. Do the new elements go so far afield that the work you’d produce would be a different project altogether (and possibly not what you’re under contract to write)? Or, is the weave of your story more durable and beautiful with the added layers? Do you have that old, “It’s the middle of the story and I’d rather be anywhere else right now than slogging through it, so I’ll just think of another project altogether because beginnings are a lot easier to deal with” syndrome? And, of course, ask yourself, is this the story you’re determined to tell, or is it God working through you to tell His tale? Then…

When you’ve dug deep, go deeper. I probably spend four or more hours on each of my 600-word columns, especially if I’m working on a medical, technical topic. Invariably, the more I strive to learn, the more I have to give to my readers. This proved especially true in my most recent column for Catholic News Service about climbing the challenging mountains in our lives. A friend of mine at church recently climbed a true mountain – making the trek from Los Angeles to Nepal and up into the Himalayan mountains to arrive at the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Before I interviewed him, I knew his experience was great for illustrating some points in my column. But during the interview, a sudden confession from him changed my focus considerably: My friend admitted he is very, very afraid of heights!

With the new information, I rewrote a large part of my outline and was able to highlight (pardon the pun!) this revelation and how it related to overcoming our fears and forging ahead in faith.

So, in closing, I repeat what I said at first: Don’t panic when your plot goes “walkabout,” or your article morphs into something different. It’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it can make the  work deeper and more compelling.

God bless you in your work and in your life!


P.S. My thanks to all who lifted up my family crisis in their prayers. God is working mightily, and for that I shall forever praise him!


One thought on “Help! Where’s my story?!

Mavis Duke Hinton

July 27, 2012 - 10 : 40 : 41

Thank you so much for a very helpful article–it truly resonated with me. My plots often taken on lives of their own, which is sometimes an improvement over what I myself had planned to write :). Blessings!


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