Solving Plot Problems

Today we’re having a look at plot problems and how to solve them. We bring up a couple different kinds of plot problems, and offer advice on how to approach each type of problem.

Whether you’re having issues getting from point to point, or fixing an already written manuscript, we hope that you’ll find this worthwhile.

As always, stay tuned for the mistakes of the month.

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Ashley: Hey everyone, welcome back to Dear Writer. Hello to everyone who’s a returning listener, and welcome to anyone who’s new. I am recording in Tauranga today, where we have a once in ten-year storm, because 2020 is very consistent. So it is very rainy. And, apparently we’re going to get some gale-force winds later, which should be exciting. How have you been, Sarah?

Sarah: Yeah I’ve been pretty good actually. I’m in Calgary, which I’m now a permanent resident in Canada, so that’s exciting for me.

Ashley: Very exciting! Congratulations!

Sarah: Yeah, so how has your writing been going lately, Ashley?

Ashley: It’s been… I think good, so we’ve been kind of doing—well I guess both of us, sort of like two books at the same time I guess—so we’ve been doing a little bit of fixing up of our first book in our series, When the Rain Falls. So I was rewriting the first chapter. I thought it was going to be a little bit more of editing with bits of rewriting, but it turned out it was just rewriting the entire thing. But I think it’s a lot better for it.

Sarah: Yes, I agree. We’ve definitely smartened up those first few chapters.

Ashley: For sure, for sure. And then um, I’ve also been doing a fair amount of research for our new book that we’re starting, which is historical fiction. And the people in my lab have been very happy, because I’ve been digging through some old theses about like, Ancient Greece for our research purposes. And, we’ve always been told as PhD’s that not a lot of people read your thesis. Usually two people, you and the examiner. And I thought that was sad, because it doesn’t even include your supervisor. Cause apparently often they don’t read them. But I’ve been… Sarah and I have been reading some theses so I feel very happy for these people, because they’ve got an additional one or two readers.

Sarah: Nah, I’ve been in depth reading it, like a book, going through. Except then I get to the notes section and I’m like erhm yeah, let’s skip some of that, I just want the narrative.

Ashley: They’re quite good, these classical slash history theses.

Sarah: Yes.

Ashley: I’ve been enjoying it.

Sarah: It’s been very interesting.

Ashley: I tried to find the lady whose one we’ve been reading about Thebes. But I couldn’t find her, all I managed to figure out was that she had a daughter. So, she might not still be alive anymore, because she could have been older when she wrote it in the ’80s.

Sarah: Yes, that’s true.

Ashley: So I tried to find her, but with no luck. Because I wanted to tell her that we’d been reading her thesis and it might make her happy.

Sarah: Oh dear.

Ashley: What about you, how’s your writing been going?

Sarah: It’s been pretty good. So, I’ve had several projects on the go, as we said we’ve been reworking the start of our series. And we also changed some of the motivations of the antagonist. So then I—we had to go through the whole of the book, and the next book, and make sure that everything flowed after making these changes and sort of make small edits to the book. Um, so that took up quite a substantial amount of time. But then, I’ve also been trying to plan our next book, which has been quite tricky, because every time I get a couple of chapters through it and then I think of something else that I need to research and so then I have to go away and it takes me like a full day or two to do enough research to feel like I know what’s going on enough to be able to progress in the chapter planning. So it’s been taking me a very long time!

Ashley: I was going to say that this book’s quite intricate so… a lot of moving parts, so.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: And it’s historical fiction so there’s even more like research you have to do to get it to make sense.

Sarah: It is a lot. I mean, you’d expect there to be a lot of research with historical fiction, but even when you think you’ve got a handle on the events, you’re like, oh wait. How am I going to hook that into this event, and where are the characters in this. And especially because in Ancient Greece, it’s not always like a very clear roadmap of, this person was here and that person was there. You have to kind of make some links in between some of the facts.

Ashley: That’s kind of helpful, though. That it’s not a set-in-stone historical event.

Sarah: Yes, yeah.

Ashley: So we can kind of… if things aren’t quite working we’re able to sort of use a bit of creative license because experts don’t a hundred percent know what happened. So you can kind of get around it? But it’s minor things.

Sarah: Yes. The other thing that I have been working on was my own novel as well, which I have just finished the first draft today…

Ashley: Oh exciting!

Sarah: I’m very happy. It’s still not long enough to be called a novel, but that’s OK cause…

Ashley: A novella, for now.

Sarah: There’s still a lot I need to add in, too. So…

Ashley: Oh OK, that’s cool.

Sarah: It’s an OK first draft.

Ashley: Exciting!

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: How many words did you get up to?

Sarah: It’s around fifty-two thousand at the moment.

Ashley: OK, OK. That’s a decent effort. For sure.

Sarah: Yeah, so I’ve got like a good eight thousand to go before I can officially call it a novel, but…

Ashley: Well if you’ve got stuff to add…

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: It’s OK. I’m sure you’ll make it.

Sarah: Sort of things came more clear as I went along. And like, you’d think with planning that you’ve got this road map of where you’re going to go. And you’re just like writing along, and for some—whatever reason, the events wanna pan out a different way. So I’m going to need to go back and change a lot, but it’s exciting.

Ashley: So exciting! Yay! It’s an accomplishment I think, doing one on your own.

Sarah: I think it is, it did strike me though, that I was like, I got around fifty thousand words. Which, when you think about it, is half of what we usually have in one of our novels.

Ashley: Oh my gosh. That’s so funny.

Sarah: Maybe I’m just used to writing half a novel!

Ashley: Well I have a feeling this Ancient Greece novel is going to be way over a hundred thousand words, so that will be a novel each, basically.

Sarah: Oh my goodness yes. I think it’s going to be quite long. But that’s kind of a characteristic of historical novels.

Ashley: Yeah, part of the genre, so I think it’s OK.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s not such a problem.

Ashley: So. Should we get into our main discussion then?

Sarah: Yes, I think so.

Ashley: Which kind of fits into what we’ve just been talking about.

Sarah: Yeah, it does.

Ashley: About how we’re going to solve some plot problems, which I think both Sarah and I have been doing a lot of recently. Especially with planning this new book. And fixing the old one.

Sarah: To be honest, I’m not a hundred percent sure… I feel like I’ve come up against a lot of walls with planning this new novel. So, I think I can offer advice and maybe it might make sense to people because that I’m kind of going through it. But then at the same time I’m slightly worried that because I’ve been having problems, that I’m not going to be that useful. So I think it’ll be interesting to see where this conversation leads. It could go either way.

Ashley: So when I was…  when I was thinking… when I was making the show notes for this podcast, I thought that there are probably two types of plot problems, that people encounter. The first type is sort of a general, like story plot problem. So how you’re going to get from point A to point B in your novel. Either in like the grand scheme of things, or even just like smaller event sized things. Like say how you’re going to get one character to like go from this city to that city where an event happens. Something like that. But then the other type of plot problem is obviously plot holes that you find later. Which are annoying and need to be fixed, but are a different sort of problem because often the bulk of your story has already been written, so it’s sort of harder to fix these plot situations. So, I thought we could maybe talk about the first kind first. How do we figure out how we’re going to get from, well part A to part B in a story as a whole?

Sarah: That is quite an interesting question. So, I start by kind of looking at what’s been done before. Like, if I’m struggling… often I find, especially when I’m writing, maybe I have plotted it out already. If you’re thinking on a more smaller scheme of things, of how to get a character to like, you know, your outline point A to outline point B, um and you’re just like, oh my goodness, I don’t understand how I can twist the conversation or twist the events of what is currently happening to get there. And so sometimes I find it helpful to have a look at other books within your genre to try and work out what has been done before, and what techniques other people have used to get past that issue. And… not saying that you wanna rip off someone else’s story, but you know, maybe they used an extra character they might have brought into the scene to help things move along.

Ashley: So more like the plot mechanics that they’ve used rather than…

Sarah: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Ashley: …stealing their actual ideas and things.

Sarah: And I also think that setting can also influence how to get from point to point. When you think about your world you’re creating, and how your character fits into that world, the culture of that is going to have a large effect on day to day events in the character’s life, and how they’re going to interpret like an event that happened, or even how the flow of the story is going to work. So, for example when I’ve been planning our Ancient Greece stuff, I’ve been sort of looking at the types of festivities that they had in Ancient Greece, to work out how I can sort of intertwine the events of the story into the setting. And sometimes I’ve found that can help move the plot forward. What do you think, Ashley?

Ashley: I definitely agree with that. So, usually when I’m thinking about plot ideas, I don’t have zero ideas to start with. There’s usually some, you know, small spark where I’m like maybe this could work, maybe it won’t. But I usually find that doing like actual research helps to bring different things to light. Kind of what you were talking about with the Ancient Greece festivities and things like that. So, even not in the historical fiction, for example in other books, I’m like oh you know, they’re in America, they need to get from here to here. Start looking at how you can get from here to here. Oh there’s a train, oh there’s this really cool road. And you’re like, actually that’s quite cool. They can take this. So I find, doing research you come across little tid bits of information which end up like feeding your ideas and driving your plot forward. That’s what I find helps the most for me. Tryna… when I’m trying to figure out plot ideas.

Sarah: I think on a bigger scale, if you’re looking at structuring your book to begin with, I tend to look at the three act kind of structure, to be able to view sort of what’s going on in each separate act, and then progressively build the events so that they are kind of getting increasingly harder for the characters, and sort of building more and more tension as you go. And that was something we found with The Price of Pandemonium for example. I remember looking at it and we had this event planned for the end, for the climax, and I thought you know what? We’ve actually kind of already done that, and it doesn’t seem bigger than what’s happened previously. Like when I looked at all the events that happened throughout the book, and so then we came up with a way of making that more exciting for the grand finale. So I think sort of separating events like that can help, really, in building your plot as well.

Ashley: I definitely agree. That particular example, I think first of all really helped that book.

Sarah: Definitely.

Ashley: A lot. You know it definitely needed a bigger finale than what we had planned. And sometimes stuff like that you don’t notice until you have written the whole thing and you read it through, and then you notice and decide that actually, this needs to be bigger, or better. A bit more unexpected.

Sarah: Yeah. So I guess that sort of trends into the next part that you were talking about with plot holes and trying to work out how to change something that’s already been written.

Ashley: Yes, it does.

Sarah: So what do you have to offer about plot holes?

Ashley: Oh, so first of all you have to find them. Which, obviously your beta readers help a lot with that. But also, I guess in the first edits you do pick up on a few plot holes. My first piece of advice would be to plan your book. I know some people aren’t planners, at all. But I do feel that you know, a skeleton plan can help to eliminate at least the big plot holes. Smaller ones are always going to be there and, for me, I find the easiest thing to do is brainstorm all the possible options that could fix it, no matter how ridiculous they are. And then have a look through those and choose the one that is the most surprising, but still works within the constructs of your story. And if that fails, I always find that discussing options with other people is a miracle cure.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Somehow when you say the words out loud, and kind of tell them the problem and you start talking through it, say you give an example on how to fix it, they’ll ask you questions and suddenly you realize actually that doesn’t work. Like maybe the character’s motivations aren’t right, or it doesn’t feel natural in the setting of your book, or whatnot. So I find having a discussion friend/partner, I guess Sarah or James, is really, really helpful. What do you think Sarah?

Sarah: I would agree with that. I like to put people into the situation and then ask them what they would do. So, I might be talking to my husband and I will be like, so this is what’s happening. And just imagine that you know, this event has happened, and you’re going about your business—whatever the character is doing—what would you do? So, if you like ask different people that question, you can get sort of a variety of responses and it can be quite helpful for kind of peering into other people’s minds, of how something might work, or how different personalities might view a problem differently. So I find that quite helpful. But I also do the brainstorming of all the different possibilities as well. Mine’s kind of more like a network, because I usually do have this big idea that I kind of want to join everything into. So, people have that saying of: There’s more than one way to skin a cat. So, how many different ways can you skin that cat? Usually, one of those ways will work better than a different way. Like, you want to push yourself to go beyond the obvious. I don’t know, I’m trying to think of an example… say a character wants to get rid of a person who’s in their way. So the obvious sort of thing to do would be, well that character’s got to kill that other character. But maybe that doesn’t work with your plot, and you want the other character alive further down the road for whatever reason. So, then you have to start thinking, how am I going to twist this character who wants to kill the other character. Sorry, this is sounding super clear, I know. But how are you going to twist the story so that they feel like they’re getting what they want, but then it’s also surprising and it sort of fits into the final plot as well?

Ashley: That makes sense. Like they don’t just come—if the reader expects this character to kill another character, you don’t kill the character straight away or you don’t necessarily kill them at all to kind of surprise the reader.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: But it still drives the plot in the direction you want it to go. Do you find—this is slightly off topic. But, do you—no, it’s on topic—but I was going to say do you find that with some plot holes, the plot hole is so minor but the way you have to fix it becomes so dramatic. Like I was thinking in one of our… like in one of our chapters we needed a radio. But you can’t just have a radio appear, so you end up having to create a massive scene, just so that some character can find a radio.

Sarah: Yes. I—yeah. I agree. Are you referring to like, the first ever version?

Ashley: Well I was… what came to mind… what did come to mind was in Darkness, Set Us Free, how they need a radio to communicate.

Sarah: Oh, OK.

Ashley: But then, as I started talking about it, I did start thinking about it, about the old version as well. Ah it’s amazing.

Sarah: Just for the listeners, yeah in our first ever version when we were teens, of our book, they basically just robbed some like dead soldiers for a radio. Just so you know what we’re talking about. It doesn’t happen anymore, but it was very dramatic. Very gory.

Ashley: Oh my God, yes. But even um… I was just thinking of another one. We realized doing some edits that they didn’t have a tent anymore, and then they had a shelter. But the knock-on effects of them not picking up a tent earlier in the book changed three books worth of material.

Sarah: Yeah it’s suddenly, you know, you can’t unzip doors or anything.

Ashley: Yeah!

Sarah: I still found that when I was doing my revisions recently. I thought I had fixed that, I thought I had fixed a few things, but it turns out that I’d just highlighted them, and I hadn’t actually fixed them. So then I’m just reading along, and they unzip the door, and I’m like, there’s no tent. What are they doing? So you do have to be like, if you change something, you have to be really aware that it might make inconsistencies later on. So that in itself can cause plot holes. So it’s worth going through the book with a fine-tooth comb, just so you don’t have a character randomly unzipping a door that’s not actually… there.

Ashley: Not there anymore. It was there, to be fair.

Sarah: Ah dear.

Ashley: So amusing.

Sarah: So I guess the other thing that you’ve gotta think about when you’re reading through the edits of your work is, you’re looking out for inconsistencies, but also being aware of when you disengage from your work, because inevitably there’s situations and pieces of text where you start skimming over—it doesn’t help when you’ve read it a billion times before—but there’s still a reason why you’re skimming through sections. So when you start skimming, you have to stop and ask yourself, what is it that’s turning me off this section and how can I twist this to make it more interesting so that I’m engaged. Like, is it because you haven’t complicated the plot enough, are they just babbling on about nothing? Or is it that, you know, maybe you’ve dumped a whole lot of exposition in the scene and it’s too information heavy, and so you kind of switch off. And also noting and asking your beta readers, or people who are reading through, where in the book they got bored. And trying to understand the reasons why they got bored. And then, when you sort of work out the places where you get drawn out of the plot, then you can kind of start splot—argh—spotting the plot holes.

Ashley: I thought you were going to say ‘splotting’ and I was like YES. We should make that a new word for when you look for plot holes, it’s not like…

Sarah: Splotting. Sorry guys, I can’t go out for dinner tonight, I’m splotting.

Ashley: Yes! I really like it. Um, no, so we did have this exact problem in The Price of Pandemonium though, with our beta readers. Both out beta readers picked up on a section of our book where they pretty much said it’s a bit too boring. Pretty much, not quite in those words. And so we did have a choice at that point.

Sarah: They said it ‘lacked tension’.

Ashley: It lacked tension. So we had a choice to leave it or make some changes, and we decided given that both readers pointed it out that we should probably make some adjustments.

Sarah: Yeah, I think this is also why it’s so helpful to have multiple beta readers. Because what we’ve found, is that yeah OK. Sometimes, you know, they’ll pick up things and you can kind of choose. You can be like well, they’ve picked up about this particular point, but we’re not going to change that because we know that if we change that, that’s going to change the reader’s attitude toward a particular character, and then things aren’t going to flow the way you need them to. So you do have to be careful when taking on criticism that some things, you know, should stay the same. But when you get multiple readers that pick up the same issue, that’s when you go, yeah. I think we have a problem here.

Ashley: Yes. And that ended up being quite major changes in the end!

Sarah: Yes.

Ashley: But I do think it was for the best, anyways.

Sarah: I do too.

Ashley: But yes, listen to your beta readers, with a—I guess carefully though.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. You have to sort of question… I mean I do it when… And that’s the other thing I was going to mention as well is, when you’re reading through your book I’m—Ashley will tell you I’m like so critical of our book. Any tiny discrepancy or… like I’ll pick it up and I’ll be like, that’s not realistic, I’m sorry but we need to rework this. But you know, I do that every single chapter, is I’m always questioning; is this realistic? Is this true to the character? Is this even feasible for them to do? Do they have the skills, do they have the abilities? And, when you are constantly questioning as you’re reading through, that helps to pick up the plot holes.

Ashley: I definitely agree.

Sarah: Agree that I’m super critical. No, I’m kidding.

Ashley: Oh no, I agree that it’s helpful to keep it, to like keep it in the back of your mind when you’re reading through.

Sarah: I am super critical though. Sometimes I feel really bad, I’m like, I’m sorry Ashley. Poor Ashley went through the start of our book, and she gave me like four different versions and I was like, ah no. I’m sorry I don’t like that one because of this.

Ashley: It was OK.

Sarah: Until finally she came up with one.

Ashley: It was real… so I was… James read all of them. He was like, that one’s fine. That one’s fine. They’re all fine. And I was like, they’re all fine… what? So he was like, all of them would work, I would think. So I was like it’s OK, I’ll find the perfect one.

Sarah: What did he say about the last one, I’m curious whether he thought it was better or not, or…

Ashley: He was like, I see what you’re trying to get across, it works well. And then the other one he was like oh you know, that’s really dramatic it sounds really good. And I’m like it doesn’t matter. I dunno, I can’t win. It’s OK though, it was for the best I think, it did end up working well. It was one of those moments where I knew—sounds strange—I knew the tone I wanted to get across. Not even the exact words, but I knew the tone I wanted to get across to open the book. Because it wasn’t… it wasn’t necessarily information I wanted to put forward. It was just to set the atmosphere more than anything. But with a character that really doesn’t do atmosphere. So I think that was one of the issues.

Sarah: That was something interesting that I was thinking about as well. Was that certain characters of ours are better at starts than others. Like, Lizzie for example, she’s had two beginnings taken away from her. I feel like she has to start this fourth one, because all the others have had starts, but it got me thinking, I was like, maybe it’s just she’s not well suited for it. I will find the words when it comes to us doing the fourth, and… to start it from her point of view. Because I think it’s important since all the other characters have had the chance, but.

Ashley: It wasn’t even anything to do with Lizzie’s fault though. It just ended up being more—

Sarah: More advantageous for—

Ashley: Yeah, someone else to do it. It worked better, like they had more to lose in those chapters.

Sarah: That’s kind of funny. But I kind of got thinking, I was like, Levi’s a little bit tricky for a chapter one, as well.

Ashley: He is.

Sarah: Dylan was quite easy, because he’s a little bit dramatic sometimes. And Grace is like… she’s always got that undertone, that undercurrent of fear going on so…

Ashley: Her chapters are very tense.

Sarah: She’s quite easy for starting and ending.

Ashley: Yes, yes.

Sarah: You can really get the tension in there.

Ashley: Yes and Levi’s a very… quite a nonchalant character. And he’s pretty casual, so having him start the book was… there’s a lot of stuff you couldn’t do with him.

Sarah: Yes.

Ashley: Because, you’d read it and in the next paragraph you’d be like, but that wasn’t Levi!

Sarah: He’s not very dramatic, he’s very straight forward.

Ashley: Yup. We got through in the end. Many iterations. I did end up leaving it for a week though, because I always find that helps me when things get… when I get like stuck in a character’s head, or stuck trying to get something perfect, just like leaving it and then… it ends up OK in the end.

Sarah: Yup. So, sort of bringing it back, would you say that that’s kind of one of your techniques for getting past… past plot points as well, is to sort of let things sit and churn it over in your mind, or…?

Ashley: Yeah, probably. I tend to let things sit a lot, although that’s sometimes a problem because I’m not very good at kind of working on other things while I let things sit. Because my mind will usually be working in the background. But in this case I did write another entire chapter in the meantime. But that was more I think out of frustration. Cause in that example it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to drive the plot forward, it was just finding the exact words to use in that instance.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Ashley: But for other actual plot problems… leaving them—I find that I do need to just not write it yet. Think about it, wait until I have a more clear idea in my mind. Or know exactly what the problem is, because sometimes when you find these plot holes, it’s not necessarily like the problem that you think it is? Like you can tell there’s something wrong, and you’re like, oh I don’t like this part, it’s got to change. And then you realize actually it’s not that part, it’s this one little piece which makes it feel off? So sometimes letting it sit in that instance really helps, it avoids you changing a whole lot of stuff that didn’t need to be changed in the first place.

Sarah: I would agree with that. I’m not very good, I—as you may have noticed—I never have just one project going at a time because I’m not very good otherwise at letting things sit and churn. I’m constantly trying to fiddle with things if I only have one project to do. So I solve that by having multiple projects.

Ashley: So you’re just like I’ll work on the other one.

Sarah: Yeah. It’s like this one isn’t going well, let’s just put that aside for a minute. Ah, it can also turn into a procrastination thing as well, so I have to be kind of careful. Especially with this planning… so I thought to put things into perspective for the pantsers out there, because I have been in the past a bit of a pantser myself. I mean, we do always outline and we do always do chapter plans, because as collaborative writers we kind of have to. But, for me, I kind of like to fly by the seat of my pants a bit more. And I understand how trapping it can feel to have chapter plans. So, my kind of suggestion for solving plot problems, is rather than going ahead and trying to do a whole book without any kind of planning, because then you can kind of run into like multiple issues of like you know, you don’t really have a climax here, or maybe it’s less than what the climax was in your beginning hook, or you know maybe it’s not complicating progressively and it doesn’t really flow as well as what you’d like. So, I kind of start writing—if I’m doing a project by myself—I’ll start writing the beginning hook and kind of get a feel for the story. This is how I approach the one that I’m doing that I’ve just finished the first draft for. Is that initially I was like I’m just gonna write anything. I’m just gonna see what comes out. And it kind of came out with these ideas which, I didn’t… I ended up rewriting… like I actually started writing this book ages ago but I only recently kind of revisited the idea. But the original idea I kind of used and then jumped off to create that beginning hook. And then you can kind of… I think as a pantser it kind of works if you just separate it down into segments. So you have like and idea of where you’re going for the beginning hook, and then once you get past the first quarter to the first third of the book you start going OK. Well what am I going to do for this next middle build, how am I going to make that progressively complex? How am I going to get the characters to sort of work together in a way that is interesting and going to draw the readers in. And then, I do think it’s helpful to have your ending payoff kind of set in your mind before you start as well. Even if you’re not a hundred percent certain on it, but you kind of have like a murky background in your mind, I find that helpful. I wasn’t sure when I started what it was going to look like. And then Dan kind of mentioned something. He was like, oh, it would be really interesting if this happened in the end. And I was like, that would be really interesting. So then I started thinking how could I get to there. And a lot of things need to be reworked, and make it all make sense, and make these characters feel real and their motivations and the corresponding events to occur in the way that I need them to fall like kind of dominoes. You know, I need to change… one of the characters for example, needs to be less rebellious for example, and more by the rules sort of person to be able to sort of progress things.

Ashley: To make it make sense.

Sarah: But yeah. She’s a minor character so it should be pretty easy to do. But yeah.

Ashley: I’ve never been… I’ve never been one to go that much without a plan. But I think that’s more a symptom of the collaborative writing.

Sarah: Yes, yeah. You can’t do collaborative writing without it.

Ashley: Although, some of our chapter plans…

Sarah: We do have flexibility.

Ashley: Some of our chapter plans are pretty flexible. Cause I know some of them are like, at camp. Mention this thing.

Sarah: And you’re like ah, shit.

Ashley: Lizzie needs to get angry. And that’s the chapter plan. At camp, Lizzie gets angry.

Sarah: Doesn’t that just happen all the time anyways?

Ashley: That’s a lot of freedom. That’s sort of the level of going off the cuff that I’m used to.

Sarah: Also though, collaborative writing, how we get around it sometimes is, we had one situation where it was like I was writing along and I was like oh! Oh, this kind of naturally leads to this event occurring in this chapter which is a bit sooner than what we had anticipated. We didn’t sort of think about that until like later on in the series. But then I, you know, contacted Ashley and was like, is this OK? Because I find often when I’m writing, an idea will occur to me and I’ll be like, that would be perfect. But, you know, it wasn’t in the plan and it does effect pieces in the book. Yeah, so I think as long as you’re communicating it’s not a super big thing if you decide to change things down the road.

Ashley: No, I don’t think so.

Sarah: You need to leave the… leave it open for the muse.

Ashley: Our plans are never set in stone. There’s usually a few key… well I guess keystone things that need to happen.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Ashley: We’re always pretty flexible what happens between them. Or even where they happen. We’re never super set, like this has to happen in chapter eight.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Sometimes we’ll switch chapters around, move them over, kind of push it.

Sarah: You’ll be trying to finish off the end of the chapter, and it will be like, oh. I’ve actually started converging on the next chapter plan. Be like, sorry Ashley.

Ashley: Or the opposite.

Sarah: Yeah, or the opposite. You don’t… mind you, you’re kind of… you tend to draw things out where I find it hard to do that and I compact it down. Which is probably why my own book has turned out to be like fifty thousand words.

Ashley: I consciously try not to draw things out on purpose, but otherwise because I write very… my sentences are less flowy, it can come across too fast if I don’t try and pace it a bit more. So I try to consciously pace things out a bit to stop that.

Sarah: I was so impressed with the um… talking about getting from point to point. So, as we discussed with the little points in chapter plans, and because we leave it quite open, typically how we’ve worked it in the past is Ashley kind of does the outline, and I’ll kind of expand it into chapter plans. Not that she can’t step in and change anything. But, so when we replanned the start of our series, I did a few chapter plans for them. And it was very murky—I think I gave an idea or something of how to get from this one chapter point to another chapter point. But I kind of left it open. And Ashley was kind of worried about it when she sent the chapter to me. She was like, I’m not sure what you think about this point, except it turned out to be amazing! It was the one part in the whole chapter that just had me hanging on. Oh my goodness!

Ashley: I’m glad that happened! Because it took me a while to think of it.

Sarah: I think we can probably give that part away, is that she had a dog come out in front of the car. Which I think is a really good way of drawing people in. If you’re gonna have something to do with an animal, people get really attached to animals. So you can kind of use that to manipulate readers emotions. And I think you did that very well, so.

Ashley: Yes. Well it was kind of difficult in that chapter because they basically need to arrive at a house, and they’re driving, and it’s a random house. So I needed to find some way of making them stop and go to the house, pretty much. And, it’s actually quite difficult to do, to make people just go to a random house. So that’s why I used the dog coming out.

Sarah: It worked really well. No I think it was good, because at that point, they didn’t know what was going on. So it kind of starts introducing the tension without going to the extreme of—

Ashley: —what it was before. I’m glad it worked, and that you enjoyed it.

Sarah: Yeah. I think we can probably carry on with our mistakes of the month. Do you have anything else that you wanna say about solving plot points?

Ashley: Nope, I think I’m good. I think we’ve covered most of the things I had written down. What about you, any last comments?

Sarah: I think just to sort of hammer home the main one is, just don’t go with the obvious. Just keep pushing yourself and keep trying to find those different ways, because even when it seems like your character is stuck in an impossible situation to get out of. Or you feel like you’ve cornered them, there’s usually a way. You just have to find it.

Ashley: There is always a way. Always a way.

Sarah: Ya. Anyways…

Ashley: Do you wanna get started? Do you have mistake of the month that you’d like to share?

Sarah: I have a few, as I usually do. The funniest one that I found this month—because we didn’t really do a whole lot of writing this month—but as I was going over the book I still found mistakes.

Ashley: Me too!

Sarah: Not very many, but there were a couple. And the funny one that I found was… One of our characters, Dylan, was creeping into a shop, he sees a shadow, and the shadow then says to him, “It’s me, Dylan.” Which… the shadow was Levi talking to Dylan, like, “It’s me, Dylan.” But it came off as, “It’s me… Dylan.” Like, I’m Dylan. Which was very confusing because obviously Dylan’s the one who’s point of view it’s from. So, it was like who is this person impersonating Dylan? And then Grace says, she says something like, “oh my gosh, Levi!” in the next sentence, which makes it funnier, cause we were like, well clearly Grace knows what’s going on.

Ashley: Grace isn’t fooled by the Dylan impersonator. But Dylan is fooled by the Dylan impersonator.

Sarah: Yeah. He’s kind of like wha—who the heck are you? So clearly I just chopped off the end that and had “it’s me.” Well actually I haven’t done that yet, but I’ll do that when you get the chapters back to me.

Ashley: Yup.

Sarah: I have it noted down. I have a list of like the things I need to fix. Do you wanna go with yours?

Ashley: I can, I will go. Um, sticking with Dylan, um, it’s not quite the same chapter. I think it’s actually his next chapter though. So, Dylan goes into this elaborate explanation of how he kills this soldier with a speargun in the chest. And it changes perspective and later on they’re recounting what happens and Jennifer explains how Dylan shot the soldier in the back. And I don’t know how I never noticed this, but so we had a great contradiction. Cause I went back, and he does shoot him in the chest. And I was like… and it says in the back. And I was like maybe I read it wrong so I went back again, and no, it still says in the chest. So I just changed it to “Dylan shot him with a speargun,” or something. I was like this is the easier fix.

Sarah: Oh dear, Dylan. Back, chest. It’s like, it’s such simple inconsistencies, but. And you know, I have—when I was reading the Tomorrow When the War Began series, I found a couple of random inconsistencies like that. But it’s so hard to get rid of all of them that I totally understood. And, clearly, most people aren’t analyzing the text in the same way I was, so.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: OK, so, when I was writing my own book as well, for some reason there’s certain words that I keep typing wrong. And I have to—I notice it when I type it and I go back and change it again, but it’s really frustrating and it’s always the same words, like one of them has been ‘clothes’. For some reason I keep adding an ‘r’ in the middle of it.

Ashley: What?

Sarah: So then it becomes… all my characters have lately been wearing ‘clothers’.

Ashley: Oh my gosh yes! That’s amazing.

Sarah: Like, C-L-O-T-H-E-R-S. Clothers. And I’m like no! I’ve done it again. It’s kind of funny.

Ashley: Like our soldier/solider. That one’s really hard to pick up as well because even when you read it, sometimes…

Sarah: I know, it’s because it’s an actual word, it never underlines or anything.

Ashley: And even when you read it sometimes, when it’s written correctly, you’re like, soldier that looks weird. And then you’re like no, no, no. That looks fine. And then the next time you’re like, is that soldier? Or is that solider? I don’t know.

Sarah: Like when I was trying to write lieutenant. And I was like… cause I kind of wrote it and I was like that looks a bit weird… lieutenant. Because it’s one of those words that you pronounce… unless you’re American and prounce it loo-tenant. But it’s one of those words that, well a British English person you pronounce it left-tenant. So, it doesn’t really make sense when you try to sound it out. And, I spelled it out and I was like, that looks a bit weird. And I was like, well it hasn’t underlined it. No, it must be OK. And then I transferred the whole book to an eBook, and it wasn’t until I was reading through the eBook, that I was like, that is DEFINITELY wrong! And then I looked it up in the dictionary and the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ and the ‘u’ is all mixed up. Ah dear.

Ashley: I struggle with spelling at the best of times. As you may have read in my blog I do a lot of cryptic crosswords, I do it with my lab-mate. But my spelling is actually atrocious. I really struggle normally to spell. So I’ll get a word and I’m like—her name is Shi-Wei—ah Shi-Wei, I think the word is this. And she’s like are you sure? And I’m like, I’m not sure, I’ve tried to google it but I can’t spell it close enough to the word to get it right. And then she’ll be like, yes Ashley it is that word. I’m like, OK. And she’s like, this is how you spell it. I’m really terrible, I’m so terrible.

Sarah: That’s funny. The one other thing that I had was—talking about strange words—because, so, in the book that I’ve been writing, everything’s present tense. And then our books, everything’s past tense. Which has been THE most confusing thing in the world. I do not suggest switching between tenses in projects at the same time. I then have to go through and like double check everything. And even in my own book, I have to change things from past tense to present tense, and then in our book I have to change things from present tense to past tense. So, I started thinking about the words. Could not equals couldn’t. Would not, wouldn’t. Cannot, can’t. And then will not is randomly won’t. And I was like, that’s kind of weird when you think about it. Like shouldn’t it be willn’t or something?

Ashley: Although you saying it, you’re like maybe that’s why!

Sarah: Yeah, and I was like, willn’t. Willn’t. No, that doesn’t work. And I was like maybe that’s why it’s won’t.

Ashley: Do you think it used to be willn’t?

Sarah: Willn’t.

Ashley: Do you think willn’t… like way back in old English it was willn—willn’t. I can’t even say it. I think it’s always been won’t. Maybe I need to look up the etymology of it.

Sarah: Maybe.

Ashley: Because, it’s always so fascinating.

Sarah: But I was like just going over the word won’t, and I was like this is… this is strange.

Ashley: One of those words you look at and you’re like hmmm?

Sarah: Cause I couldn’t think of it for a second, and I was like what am I trying to say here? I’m trying to use the words ‘will not’. What is that again? Oh yeah, won’t! I’m just… I’m very confused with all this past and present tense stuff.

Ashley: That would be really confusing. Really confusing. I’m not surprised, I would struggle.

Sarah: It just creeps in. You’ll be speaking in present tense and then suddenly the past tense will start creeping in. Or like the other way around. When I went to redo the chapters… chapter… the early chapters of our book, I couldn’t even work out how. Because by that point I’d just been doing chapter plans and my book, and I hadn’t been writing in past tense for a while. And I couldn’t work out how to change back to past tense. I was like, oh my God. How do I do this? And I had to read through several chapters to be able to be like, oh OK. I think I’ve kind of got the flow of it. And then I’d start writing and it would suddenly change to present tense again.

Ashley: Oh my gosh.

Sarah: It was very, very confusing.

Ashley: I do have that occasionally, there was one chapter in Darkness Set Us Free, the Grace chapter when she comes back to her house, and they’re talking about her house. Or she’s talking about her house. And the first time I wrote it, for some reason I wrote it in the present tense. And then I couldn’t for the life of me work out—

Sarah: I think I noticed at the beginning of that chapter which is why I changed some of it.

Ashley: Yeah, I couldn’t work out how to put it into past tense. I just struggled. I gave up, I was like I can’t even… I can’t remember how to change these words, I don’t know what happened. So I know what you mean.

Sarah: You kind of get used to changing it, but if you haven’t… if you’re not used to switching between them, like if you go for writing one for a while and then you try to change to the other, it’s very disorientating. Yeah. That’s all I have to say about that. Um, so, should we talk about what we’re doing next time on the show?

Ashley: Yes, yes. So sticking with the theme of trying to talk about basically our new book, which we’re going through a lot of the planning stages, so this—because we’ve been dealing with a lot of plot stuff, um that’s why we sort of decided this podcast would be about plot problems and things like that. The next step for our new book is doing some character development and character creation, so we thought why not talk about creating believable characters next week. Or next month, sorry.

Sarah: I’m quite excited about that because I feel since like the last time I’ve done like a character sheet, I’ve learnt a lot about what makes a character interesting and believable. And what makes them more 3D. So I think it should be quite an interesting topic to speak to.

Ashley: I’m really excited. I’ve always liked creating characters for some reason, there’s something about it that’s really fun.

Sarah: I feel like it’s kind of cool when they gain their own life, you know? And you know, you try and shape events around them and it doesn’t work because they’re like, no. And they get all stubborn on you. I quite like that.

Ashley: Yes, yes. We have a lot of that in our teen fiction series. There are a lot of things where they’re like, I refuse to do what you want.

Sarah: Lizzie’s probably the most problematic that way. She has her own agenda. Grace is a lot more… oh, I don’t know. She can be a bit tricky though.

Ashley: Yeah, you can get her to do most things, but I think the way that… she doesn’t outright refuse to do things, she just makes your life difficult doing it.

Sarah: Yeah. I have these like interviews stored on my computer. If I—this is another good thing for solving plot issues which we should have mentioned earlier. But so, if you’ve read my blogs you’ll know about my method of interviewing my characters. Where, I have these like random interviews stored on my computer, and it will be like me talking to the character, like: hey, so you’re at this point right now. What do you think about that? What’s going on in your head? And all these like random questions. And they’ll be like who are you? And I’m like, that’s irrelevant. Just focus on the task. What are you thinking and what are you gonna do about it? And so I have these weird… I know, it sounds really strange. Slightly crazy.

Ashley: I find them amazing. My favorite one was—

Sarah: Dylan’s one was the most hilarious!

Ashley: Yes! I was going to say that’s my favorite one where she interviews… she interviews Dylan, but um he doesn’t want to play ball with her, and so she’ll ask him questions, but he’ll be like, who are you? I don’t understand why you’re in my head! And then her interview kind of just ends.

Sarah: And then he’s like, well OK, that was weird…

Ashley: It was very on brand for Dylan though, which made it more hilarious. Although I don’t think it helped you solve the plot problems very much.

Sarah: Tamati was a lot easier to talk to. Who… no one will know who I’m talking about but that’s OK. He was a lot easier. Jess’ was kind of… weird.

Ashley: Hers was really good. It was good though.

Sarah: It was quite good though, it helped us really solve like the plot problem we were talking about earlier, with making the climax more climactic in The Price of Pandemonium. That really helped. That is a very useful technique I’ve found. I read it in a book and I was like, I’m totally going to do this.

Ashley: It just sounds kind of fun, anyways, interviewing your characters. Whether or not it helps you solve any plot problems.

Sarah: Anyways, so that’s what we’re talking about is creating believable characters. Yeah so, I hope you guys all enjoyed the discussion that we had this month about solving plot points. I really enjoyed speaking to it, and it’s almost enlightened sort of our process a little bit more for myself, because you know, struggling through these chapter plans it’s been really good to kind of sit down and say hey, this is how we usually do things so, yeah! Hope you guys got something out of that.

Ashley: I certainly also got things out of it, so. It’s good just chatting through things.

Sarah: Yes. So if you guys wanna get ahold of us or learn more about us, you can go to our website at And so for us, if you’re listening and you really like our show, it would be really helpful if you guys follow us on uh, whatever podcasting app you use, and leave a review. We would love to hear from you. We have a contact form on our website lindersoncreations that you can contact us on. And if you prefer doing social media, there’s always Facebook as well, or Instagram. And they’re both at lindersoncreations.

Ashley: Yes! We’d love to hear from you. Tell us your mistakes of the month. Please.

Sarah: Yeah!

Ashley: I really wanna hear what other people’s mistakes are. I know that sounds… that sounds a bit… you know… mean.

Sarah: We promise we’re not going to totally laugh at you.

Ashley: No!

Sarah: So I hope that everyone has a great month and we will see you all next time.

Ashley: Yes. Happy writing everyone.