Starting Over

I remember the first sweater I ever knitted. It was this ghastly periwinkle nightmare with this bear claw scalloped edging that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. I worked through it slowly and clumsily, putting it off and putting it off until I reached a point where I couldn’t even look at it anymore. I finally decided to rip the whole thing apart and start over.

Sometimes I reach that point in writing, as I did with a novel I’m currently working on. It wasn’t working. There were mistakes that I had refused early on to fix, and now they couldn’t be fixed without taking the whole thing apart. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over. 

Starting over is a scary thought, but it helps to realize that you don’t necessarily lose everything. When I restarted my sweater, I was still able to use the same yarn, and I didn’t suddenly forget how to knit. I still had the same tools at my disposal, and while I lost the visible progress I had already achieved, I gained something even more useful: a renewed perspective.

With this particular novel, I’ve been so trapped within the confines of my early ideas that I’ve been hindering my own progress. By starting over, I’ve enabled myself to re-envision the story in a way that is more likely to work. Fewer dropped stitches and split threads, and much more potential.

I also identified a significant weakness in my writing: my plotting can be inconsistent and inconclusive. While a lot of writers like to say that plot is secondary (and I agree, character development is more important), I feel like it’s still extremely important, especially in genres like sci-fi and fantasy, to make sure that your storytelling is comprehensive enough so that the reader isn’t confused or thrown off trying to understand basic plot points while they’re already working to understand the strange and beautiful new world you’ve created.

This time around I’m also trying something different and using a more cinematic formula for plot structure to outline my novel. Since my scenes tend to be very visual, I think this is a smart way for me to organize my work and lay out my story. Thinking this way will also help me ensure I’ve created enough tension and conflict to keep my readers engaged. You can find the outline I used (with example plot points from Star Wars) here.

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