History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Falling Off the Map

World map from 1689Last week, I talked about getting stuck in the middle of a story. A similar, and yet different problem can be when your story takes on a life of its own, and somehow falls off the edge of your map.

Many folks who fall into the “pantsers” camp of writing insist that they just let their characters show them where they need to go. As a member of the “plotter” camp, I have to be more careful about that. Because my characters are jerks–fascinating jerks, but still jerks. And so if I let them to whatever they like, they’re likely to wander around, avoid the plot, and otherwise lay waste to my carefully laid plans. And when they do that, more often than not, I write myself into a corner.

How to avoid wandering characters? Sometimes the answer is to let them wander some, with the full knowledge that what you’re writing is probably going to have to be cut. If you’re trying to make more efficient use of your time, however, that can be an issue. In that case, it definitely helps to check in with your outline every once in a while, to make sure that your character haven’t gone off in some unplanned direction.

(As a note, sometimes when your characters wander off, that can be a sign that they know where they’re going, and maybe your outline isn’t what the story needs to be. So there’s a value in taking a step back and considering whether or not this new direction is preferable to the old one, or whether you’re going to have to pull those characters off of the brink and back onto your map.)

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