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Untangling Story Knots in Six Steps

Photobucket [1]It happens to every writer now and then — you know, when you’re convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that your story is absolute crap and you have to toss every single word and start again, or come up with a different idea, or just bag it entirely. I hit that wall this past week, while working on my wip. It hadn’t been a good week anyway, so sitting there with my notes, realizing all of the story flaws, hit me with the force of a near panic attack.

How had I allowed things to go so horribly astray? What could I possibly do to right them again?

I used the temp-toss approach. To do this, you’ll need to open your mind and be willing to throw away a lot of ideas–and sometimes a lot of work. Here’s what you’ll need, and what you’ll do.

1. Take out a clean piece of paper, and draw a line down the center.

2. On the left, write down only those story elements you absolutely MUST retain. I honed in on significant plot points, theme, and several of the characters and their traits. In the end, this list was far simpler than I original thought it would be.

3. List the other major elements on the right side of the page: themes, characters, plot points, etc…

4. Now, try to link them. Use pencil. If you find yourself creating loopy logical connections to get something to fit or writing fine print for yourself to make a connection clear, you know you’ve found a trouble spot.

5. One at a time, decide which of the trouble spots are worth saving. Understand why they’re important to the book. Brainstorm adjustments as needed, and alter the first list accordingly.

6. Let go of the rest. During this last session, I said goodbye to two potential characters when I realized they didn’t add anything but trouble to this book (not the good sort of trouble), but I realized someone else–someone I’d originally thought would not play a role–could in fact play a vital part in the story. I also altered several storylines.


It seems simple, but when you have a knotty mess, it’s sometimes good to stop pulling the rope, analyze the knot, and take your time to straighten things out again.

Write on, all!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Jar0d [2]

About Therese Walsh [3]

Therese Walsh co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress [4], and orchestrates the WU UnConference. [5] Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [6], was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [7] was a Target Breakout Book. Sign up for her newsletter [8] to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub [9]). Learn more on her website [10].