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When plot goes pear-shaped

Word after word, sentence by sentence you fly through your imagined world, hand in hand with your made-up friend, soaring cause to effect towards the perfect ending, just beyond the horizon, over that glorious rise.

Wait. It’s flat. Where are we? No, not that word, but this. What were you saying? But, why?

You fall off the end of an unfinished sentence, alone, through colourless nothing. There’s only you and the blinking cursor.

That’s how it feels to me, messing up a a story, no longer knowing it, all doubt. It’s always a horrible surprise.

It really shouldn’t be, by now. But, I swear and stomp up and down, until I remember doing so many times before. Then, I make a fresh cup of tea, pull up my lucky writing socks, and look for my mistake. Hoping it is singular and only a paragraph or page ago, I’m bitterly aware it seldom is.

There’s no point crying over deleted words, but I do like to give them a decent send off.

In their further honour, I present my most frequent mistakes.

Protagonist dither

I’m so interested in everything she’s experiencing that we both forget what she wanted in the first place, what she most cares about. She wanders about in loops of increasing complexity towards another story entirely.

Setting anarchy

Some rules are not made to be broken. The limits of my story’s world - environmental, cultural, technological, societal - I chose for a reason. They help or hinder my protagonist. When I rebel against them, anything can happen, and probably will. Nobody, including me, understands why.

Antagonist blanks

Bad guys are real people too. If I don’t examine what they’re feeling, how they’re responding to every development and growing, they go bonkers, do ridiculous.


Minor characters have a job to do. Getting a crush on them, giving them all the words, sweet little adventures of their own is no fun for my protagonist. Because, all this time, she’s stuck right where I left her, checking her watch, getting cold, yawning.

Killer darlings

Though I know those pretty lines don’t belong in my story, I can’t bring myself to set them free to find a place of their own. Instead, bedazzled, I follow wherever they lead. A sudden drop off an unfinished sentence.

All these errors are written from enthusiasm, feel like inspiration at the time. I wouldn’t stop making them, even if I could. Because, sometimes the mistake that undoes a story is the discovery which makes a better one.

'Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let

run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.'

Ray Bradbury

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