The Dreaded Plot Plink

Cover copy“75 Miles to Montauk” is a supernatural thriller.  It has a lot of adventure, a good bit of action, some awesome characters and a few wrong turns at Albuquerque.  I love this story and I devoted most of my “National Novel Writing Month” experience to it last year.

During Nanowrimo time is golden.  The goal is to write just under 1,700 words per day, which requires a steady pace.  If I researched something I thought it was really important, like the critical scene in a Vegas nightclub where three of my characters meet for the first time.  It put me a day behind schedule but the information I found was critical.

There’s only one problem.  There is no nightclub scene in my book.  The characters only mention it in passing.  So what happened?

It was consumed by the dreaded plot plink.

Plink: 1. a short, sharp metallic sound made by plucking a musical instrument. 2. The sound of a bullet striking metal. 3. To shoot things at random. See: Boing.

(this is what a plink sounds like)

I know writers who outline their novels very carefully.  Like a storyboard for a move, each scene is carefully detailed so that they never lose focus during the actual writing process.  I also know writers who never outline anything.  They adopt a “seat of the pants” approach and end up wherever the muse takes them.

I’m somewhere in the middle.  I have a good idea of what I want to accomplish, and I usually do a ton of research to get me there.  But the story itself has room to grow and change as needed without the constraints of a rigid outline.  I adopted this style after learning the truth – good plots always plink.

Here’s a simple example.  In a scene as I originally envisioned it, my characters decide the object of their desire is being held on a top secret military base.  They break onto the base and they’re arrested.  During the following interrogation one of my characters argues passionately with the authority figure in charge, convincing him to join forces to search for this valuable thing.

As I started writing I listened to my characters.  One of them, a middle aged lady, expressed doubts about the wisdom of this plan.  When the idea of carrying a gun was mentioned she flatly refused.  When they were arrested she lost her temper (very rare for her, as she’s a nurturing type) and scolded her companions.  Meanwhile the MPs who detained them gave them a stern talking to about taking Close Encounters of the Third Kind too seriously, then let them go with directions on how to find Roswell, New Mexico.

Believe me, that’s the better scene.   By far.  In fact, I laugh every time I read it – it’s one of my favorites.  Had I rigidly held to the original idea, several of the actions would have been out of character for my team, and lacking in the humor I try to toss in as often as possible.  By going with the plink I lost the device of military back up, but I gained a much stronger group.  Also, I was forced to abandon the intended location of my hidden object.  After another good bit of research I found a new location, not guarded by anyone, and it’s a really awesome site.  It’ll film beautifully if someone decides to make the movie.  *G*

Writers, trust your instincts at the start.  But trust your material through the process.  Don’t force your will onto a scene if it’s just not flowing.  Listen to your characters and if a plink happens, write it!  You may not end up where you were originally going, but it’s likely you’ll end up somewhere much more interesting.

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