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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Has Anybody Seen my Plot?

Missing: Plot for Romantic Comedy

Last Seen: Weaving through the 226 page manuscript; Who Needs Romeo, A Tale of a Modern Day Juliet

State of Mind upon Disappearance: Unfocused, scattered. Unable to string together cohesive story

A few months ago, I submitted my rom/com manuscript to a publishing company I respect. It was read by an editor I greatly admire and was ultimately rejected. But and this but is huge, (and not to be confused with my own ever expanding katookis) two great things occurred:

  1. I received a very useful critique outlining what they loved and what they, ahem, not so much loved.
  2. I was asked to revise and resubmit my novel.
This second point is equivalent to getting that second chance on American Idol. It’s that rare occurrence where a contestant belts out a gawd awful song, the kind that renders Randy Jackson speechless. We, the audience, think that singer has blown their one and only chance at stardom, yet something in the quality of their voice; the tone, or pitch, or maybe it’s that "je ne sais quoi," that prompts the judges to request a second song. Hence, a second chance.

Most often we’re treated with a Whitney Houston rendition that leaves us all cheering in our living rooms.

That’s the opportunity I’ve been given. Now I just have to send them my best, most perfect rewrite that leaves them speechless, with contract in hand. Gulp.

Since receiving this valuable critique, I have been focusing my attention on the character arc. I need to show the protagonist, Julia, significantly changing from the start of the story to the climax where her big decision leaves the reader thinking, “Aha! Of course she’d do that!”

I’ve rewritten portions of the story, again and again, each time unsatisfied with the result. Every time left feeling slightly more uncertain and with head in hands, wailing,

“What if I can’t do this?!”

This struggle has been going on for a few months now. Sadly, not an exaggeration.

This past weekend was our 2nd Annual Anita Factor Writing Retreat and I went with one goal in mind – to fix this story!

I knew it wouldn’t be simple, so I took along supplies and reference materials; Writing Great Books for Young Adults, by Regina Brooks, to guide me; For Writers Only, by Sophy Burnham, to inspire me; and Helene Boudreau’s synopsis outline to focus me. Oh yes, and bags of macaroons, rosettes, and mini peanut butter cups. Like gas for a car, chocolate fuels my creativity. No need to judge. And yes, I realize my fondness for all things sweet may be the cause for my aforementioned tuckis expansion.

I began, by drawing out my story arc like so:

and very quickly realized my plot points, well, sucked.
In an attempt to calm my rising panic, I read a section on character motivation from Writing Great Books and it dawned on me.

Shouldn’t Julia be more affected by the inciting incident? Shouldn't this event rock her to her core? Shake her very soul?

Because if she isn't greatly affected, there is no reason to be interested in her journey, no reason to care about her, and most importantly; There. Is. No. Plot.

By then I was hyperventilating, so I fled to the beach to clear my head and to avoid the curious glances of my fellow Anitas. I tucked For Writers Only under my arm, to ensure my moment of despair didn’t evolve into a crisis of confidence.

Grinstone Provincial Park, Manitoba
After strolling along the sand, staring out on the vast beauty of Lake Winnipeg, my plot sailed into my head.

I actually spoke these words out loud, “Of course, she is devastated by the break up. I must show this in every thought, action, and reaction.”

Why is this "aha" discovery important?

Because it’s the crux of my lost plot. It’s what motivates the main character through the remainder of the story. It drives all further action.

So thank you Regina Brooks, Sophy Burnham, and Helene Boudreau.  
You helped me find what was right there in front of me all this time.
My plot.
I highly recommend these writing resources:

Helene Boudreau's Blog:

Check out her Real Mermaid's series:



  1. You make a writing problem sound like a grand adventure. I love the line about the plot sailing into view. Wonderful. Congrats on sticking with it and keep sailing, girl! Best of luck to Julia, too.

    1. I've never thought of it as a grand adventure, but that is the perfect description. Especially since I started my journey with Julia, with only a tattered map to guide us. Next time - detailed plot outline!