Refining Plot

Blog 78 imageTwo weeks ago I posted that I had received comments on the current draft of my third book and that I was working on developing some characters further. However, I need to make some plot changes, too, and that has me asking what the best process to refine plot is.

Some writers create an outline for a book that is so detailed, they don’t make material changes to plot when they write the book. Other writers find an interesting premise for a book, start writing and let the story take them where it might.

I’m somewhere in between. For the first draft of a book, I have a premise that leads to an outline. Then, following the outline, I start writing. However, as I work through chapters, I usually think of plot changes that will make the book more interesting. Then I amend the outline, write some more, and so on, until the first draft appears. I repeat this process over many drafts to get the final book.

But refining the plot in later drafts can be tricky. I write mystery/thrillers and the plots become more intricate as I create new drafts. Changing a plot in a later draft of a book, such as the third one I’m working on now, can be nerve-wracking. A tinker in one chapter can have a domino effect across several other chapters. Occasionally the plot looks ready to unravel.

Here are three things that help me to refine plot in later drafts.

First, I only make changes that I’m very certain will create a better book.

Second, I amend the outline from beginning to end, but more with instructions than specifics. For example, I might write “X needs to reveal motive by this point, not in chapter 20.”

And third, ultimately I let the creative writing process do its work. I might worry about how to implement a plot change. How exactly will X reveal her motive? Why, when, where? Yet, when I reach the chapter that needs a change, if I let my imagination work with the scene, nine times out of ten, the change emerges and fits well.

Every writer must find his best way to refine plot. Maybe some of what I do will help.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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False Guilt and Robert Street

Blog 51 Image 2Writing the first draft of False Guilt, I needed a street close to the downtown campus of the University of Toronto where five students shared a house in the early 1990s and hid secrets.

I chose Robert Street, partly because I remember student housing there, partly because my second son shares the first name and partly because I think it’s quite charming.

Robert Street is west of the downtown campus parallel to Spadina Avenue, running north from College Street to Bloor Street. The street was laid out in 1873 by Robert Baldwin.

Robert Baldwin’s great-grandfather, another Robert Baldwin, and grandfather, William Baldwin, came to Toronto from Ireland in 1798. William Baldwin became a prominent doctor, lawyer and politician supporting responsible government. He is the namesake for Baldwin Street in Toronto and laid out Spadina Avenue in 1836. William’s son, the father of the Robert Baldwin who laid out Robert Street, was also named Robert. He too was an important politician who made contributions to the development of democracy and responsible government in Canada. (All this courtesy of Toronto Street Names – An Illustrated Guide to their Origins by Leonard Wise and Allan Gould.)

The Harbord Village Residents’ Association is doing a lot of great work to preserve the history of Harbord Village, of which Robert Street forms part. From their website, I learned that Harbord Village was once considered a poor neighbourhood and that residents would typically only live there until they had saved enough money to move elsewhere. Anglo-centric in the 1920s, over the next decades, the area become home for various other communities. Houses were divided into multiple units until gentrification began reversing the trend in the 1980s.

In the late 1960s, Toronto held a huge debate about making Spadina Avenue and Road into an expressway to downtown. Linked to this were discussions about demolishing area houses, including on north Robert Street, for high-rises and parks. Today, it is hard to imagine the effect of the expressway and those planning changes on Harbord Village.

And I would have been looking for another street for False Guilt.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Why The Case for Killing?

Last week, I self-published The Case for Killing on Amazon. People ask me how I came to write this book.
The answer to this question changed over time.

I started in May, 2012 because I needed a project to distract me from life challenges. I’d written a lot when I was younger and it was natural for me to return to writing fiction.

The initial idea was to follow an unidentified person transitioning from thoughts of murder to a plan. That character interested me enough that I kept writing.

Then other surprising (to me) characters emerged, particularly that of the proposed victim. The writing became, more or less, a daily activity, generally for a few hours, just to see where the story went. The book wrote easily. Each day, after writing a few pages, I felt I’d achieved something. And the next morning, I looked forward to the next paragraphs.

There was no better moment than reaching the end of the first draft. I felt there was a real story, with a credible plot, set of characters and psychology. Others agreed.

After that, there were months of editing, deciding what to do with the book and self-doubt. The “why” of writing the book had become creating the best version of the book I could.

Now I would say I wrote The Case for Killing to be read. Of course I hope some readers like it and that this endeavour is not an embarrassment. I’m even embracing the book’s release as something of a commercial venture. Whatever the outcome, it’s better to risk putting it out there than not.

Many thanks to readers of The Case for Killing. You’re very appreciated.