It’s Okay to Get Lost: Plot Development and the City

{Full article on REUTS Publications}

Pretty much sums up my feelings when I entered the city

Plot development is a lot like living in a new city. You know where you’re beginning and you know where you want to end up… but you have no idea how to get there.

And that’s okay.

It’s more than okay; it’s great, actually. Some of the best writing comes from unanticipated scenes. The more time you spend writing your story, the more you get to know your characters. With better understanding of their personalities, certain scenes beg to be written as you continue to compose.

These unanticipated scenes can’t be planned when first drafting your story. A lot of writers (myself included) struggle over drafting every part of the outline, from the beginning to the rising action to the climax to the resolution. I can’t count all the stories I have started and never finished just because I could not plot out each scene.

Then I moved to the city.

During my job in Washington DC, I’ve been lost a ridiculous amount of times. I used to stress out about it every time I took a wrong turn. Traveling off the designated road was scary and new and confusing.

Okay, not that scary, but you know.

Over time, I made some of the best discoveries about DC while not following the planned path. Whether it was discovering a new park, finding the best cup of coffee, or making an unexpected friend, each time I thought I was lost – I ended up finding something great. I learned to embrace the chaos.

The same feeling started to apply to my writing. Instead of worrying about where the story was headed (how can I possibly have this plot twist and still have my resolution?), I learned to go with the flow of my writing. If I write a scene which is unplanned or against the initial direction of my story, I no longer worry about reaching the ending. The best part about stories isn’t finishing them; it’s the process of writing them. Every plot twist in creativity should be welcomed instead of crushed.

Lee Child, bestselling author and creator of the Jack Reacher series, repeatedly says in interviews that he doesn’t outline. Meg Cabot composes entire blog posts dedicated to why she doesn’t outline. For both authors, writing is an organic process and can’t be planned. It’s not necessary to have a detailed list of everything which needs to happen. Writers are new to the story just like I was new to the city; there’s so much left to be explored.

At the same time, I completely understand authors who write best with outlines. If they have an idea, why not document it? But a writer should never feel hindered from writing a story just because the scene can’t be anticipated. Plot development should be explored fearlessly. All that’s needed for a story idea is a beginning and an end; the adventure is how your characters reach the conclusion.

While I’ve been lost many times in my plot and my current city, I always find my way to exactly where I want to go. Don’t be afraid to follow the unexpected turn in your story – it always works out in the end.

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