Finding the Plot Gifts You've Already Given Yourself by Claudia Mills

As far as plotting goes, I'm somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. I have a general idea of where my story is heading, but I find all kinds of surprises that emerge for me in the course of the writing itself. So I've made it my practice, when I'm halfway through drafting a book, to give a careful review of what I've already scribbled, in order to locate the unexpected gifts that I've already given myself: elements of the story that lie there on the page, ready to be pressed into further service as I write toward the climax and resolution.

My rule for myself is that anything that happens in the first half of the book must earn its keep by making a repeat appearance, with heightened significance, in the second half of the book. This follows Chekhov's allged adage that if a gun is hanging over the fireplace in the first act of a play, it must go off in the final act.

So when I was writing Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, and feeling a bit stuck halfway through as to how I would bring the story to fruition, I re-read the first half and saw a whole bunch of gifts I had already given myself: 
I had opened the book with Kelsey surreptiously reading The Secret Garden during math time. Then I had a second scene of her furtive math-time reading. Surely I HAD to write a scene where Kelsey would get busted by her teacher, in a way that might compromise her pursuit of the school reading contest championship.

Mr. Boone, the school principal, had told Kelsey's third-grade class that they had a good chance of beating out the fifth graders for the class title because the most amazing fifth-grade reader was going to be away on vacation for part of the contest time. Surely I HAD to bring that famous fifth-grade reader into the story at some point and give Kelsey a direct encounter with her, 

Kelsey had expressed increasing annoyance at her parents' demands on her reading time, their requirement that she attend her sister's awards assembly and her brother's band concert, what her mother calls "being a family." Surely I HAD to have an explosive moment where Kelsey would let her irritation come to the boiling point: "I hate being part of this family!"

The list went on: gifts I had already given myself, gifts that I either needed to use to their fullest or return-to-sender. 

O lucky author I was, that I had already, inadvertently, given myself so much promising material. BANG! went Chekhov's gun, as I fired my way happily to the book's finale.


  1. Ty, I'm mor eethan 2/3rds into my plot, so will reread and make sure to look for gifts.

  2. This is so true!!! You don't even realize what you've done if you don't go back and pick up on the little gems.


Post a Comment