Know When to Fold ‘Em

I’ve been sitting on the outline for The Pack book 3 for a while. I had a clear idea of how it would open and the course a certain character’s actions would take, and Act One came together nicely.

Act Two put up a fight, but after a while I wrestled it into submission. The other characters didn’t want to play nice, and I had to coax them into the van with candy and hope they’d cooperate.

Then came Act Three. Or, rather, didn’t come Act Three. The outline languished a while, and I’d come back and fool with it a bit, make a tweak here and there, see what new direction things took. The characters wouldn’t have it. I showed them a rag, asked them if it smelled like chloroform, but they’re too smart to fall for that kind of thing again.

It occurred to me, then, that maybe the entire thing is flawed.

I dreaded the idea of starting over. Most writers do, because then it feels like lost progress. There’s time and effort invested in that page, and to just strike it all and go back to the beginning is not an easy decision.

I did it anyway.

This morning I renamed the file as a first draft and shoved it into a subfolder, then opened up a new outline and typed up the general structure and what little I intended to salvage from the first outline. Before I knew it I had Act Two all stacked up.

Then, lo and behold, I had the Act Three I’d been searching for all along. Even better, I incorporated two neat ideas I thought would have to wait until Book Four. Why wait? Get to the good stuff now! After that I started breaking down the beats, setting up the chapters, and by tomorrow I hope to wrap it all up in a nice little bow for my editor.

To boil this all down to a point, writers can’t be afraid to scrap everything and start over. Better to discover the bad stuff now than in the rewriting stage. What’s easier to scrap: two pages of synopsis and outline or a few hundred pages of manuscript?

Don’t worry, that’s a rhetorical question.

If a writer knows his characters and what he’s trying to accomplish, the plot should just flow. Trying to force the plot—or worse, settling for a plot out of sheer stubbornness—is a sign there’s something wrong. Back up and try again. Sure, it will cost a little time, but in the long run the story will be better for it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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