Mind the Gap: Writing the story between your plot points using Gap Analysis

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Once upon a time, I used to be a pantser (one of those people who writes by the seat of their pants, not knowing where the next sentence will take them). I was a pantser, not because I liked the thrill of the unknown, but because I didn’t know about story structure. It was only when I decided to take writing seriously (and became desperate to finish just one novel, rather than add to the pile of unfinished manuscripts dying a lonely death in old computer hard drives built in the day when 100MB of memory was HUGE), that I was introduced to the Three Act Structure.

With my newfound enamourment of the three act structure and a recent purchase of Scrivener, I thought my days of writing failure was over. In the time since I embarked on this ‘serious writing’ adventure with my WIP, Divided Elements, I have crafted a world description, character profiles and a story outline that I am really excited about. My word count is growing, but I’m finding that it speeds up when I am drafting scenes that occur in the major plot points (the inciting incident, the first plot point, the midpoint) and slows down considerably when I’m crafting the in-between.

I’ve blogged about being stuck in the middle previously, and concluded that (while getting from A to B is difficult), it helps to think of it as a road trip – you need to know your start point, your destination and the type of route you want to take. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – when I’m staring at the computer screen, when I’m in the shower, before I go to bed, when I’m at work surrounded by other tasks demanding my attention… A lot.

Sometimes being stuck at work when you would rather be writing has its advantages. It was while considering my dilemma at work, that I started to think about my WIP in project management terms. With any work project, businesses are looking to make an improvement – to advance from their current unsatisfactory and flawed state to their ideal future. They set goals and then they figure out how to reach them. Basically, it is the same process authors go through with our protagonists – we have them in one place at the start of the story and use our novel to move them to a new endpoint.

Intrigued by the cross-over application, I took it a step further and started applying other project management concepts to my WIP.

Let’s start this week by looking at Gap Analysis.

Mind-The-Gap-Novel-Writing-Mikhaeyla-Kopievsky
Courtesy of Jaina via Flickr Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1za8c25)

Gap Analysis is all about articulating your ideal future and your current situation and then comparing the two to a) identify how they are different and b) define the gap that exists between them. Once you’ve compared the two, start to list the contributing factors that generate these two states – those things that actively produce or indirectly facilitate their existence. Now start thinking about the obstacles that prevent moving away from the current state and/or towards the ideal state – the lack of resources or skills, rules and regulations, cultural perceptions and attitudes, etc, etc. As GI Joe exclaims, Knowing is Half the Battle! Now that you know where you are, where you want to be, what’s going to help you get there and what’s going to stop you – you’re ready to start planning strategies to optimise/maximise the contributing factors and overcome/eliminate the obstacles.

The great thing about Gap Analysis is that you can apply it to the spaces in between all of your novel’s plot points. At each plot point, ask yourself: What is the current state of my protagonist’s world? What is the current natural order? What are the (physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, attitudinal…) features that currently define my protagonist? What is the current state of my protagonist’s relationships?

Now look forward and ask the same questions for your next plot point. How are the answers different? What are the key differences? Can you categorise them into broader differences (do you have a group of differences that relate to a change in attitude, or in new opportunities or in knowledge and skills)? Often articulating these differences will help you to more easily identified the contributing factors and obstacles – what’s holding the protagonist in their current status quo, what’s stopping them from moving on? What’s stopping the protagonist from moving towards the situation of the next plot point? What do they need to get there and why don’t they have that yet?

Now that you’ve identified your start point and end point and have surveyed the width, length and depth of the huge chasm that separates them, you’re ready to start building the bridge between them. Thankfully, building the bridge is as easy as giving your protagonist what they need and taking away the obstacles in their path. The fun part is deciding how you will give and how you will take away (insert evil laugh) 🙂

Stay tuned for future posts on how to navigate the in-between using other project management techniques…

 

 

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Mind the Gap: Writing the story between your plot points using Gap Analysis

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