Rein In A Runaway Plot

Tea, a project notebook, and a good soundtrack are my way to rein in a wild story ;)

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, a story really runs away from me and goes off on tangents or reaches its climax too soon. Usually the former is my problem, but lately it's the latter. My recent problem has been I've neglected set up and character development for BIG ACTION SCENES, mostly because I was so excited about the ideas I've had.

Sometimes a runaway plot can be a sign the story isn't ready to be told, it's told from the wrong perspective, or starts in the wrong place. The good thing is isn't an insurmountable problem, especially if you love the idea and it has potential. You've just gotta roll up your sleeves and get to work.

In September, my fourth Ghost!Story book ran away from me. The story whizzed towards its conclusion, but it was far too short. Like I said, I was so excited by the setting and what my character would go through I kinda lost control of the actual writing. So I stopped, looked over my notes - from previous books and for this one - and knew exactly where the real work was needed.

I'm in the process of handwriting all my extra scenes or rewritten moments. Whenever a book gets away from me, I leave my laptop and get it all down on paper with a pen. I find it really liberating to do it this way. I can get back in touch with the world and the characters and their motivations. Plus it's a great way to explore an idea that may or may not work. I'm also keeping additional notes for later drafts. The great thing about a first draft is it can be awful. But had I not stopped, I wouldn't have a first draft. I still don't, not yet, but it's coming together a lot better than it was before I reevaluated what I had.

So, what are my tips for reining in a runaway plot?

1) Don't panic and don't give in.
2) Step away from the book for a little while. For me, it took a couple of weeks of stewing to reach a point when it all came together again. And, to be (vaguely) honest, my non-writing life really got in the way of any kind of creative output at the end of the summer. So, yeah, if you're stressed out about something else and your writing isn't working, put it aside until you're ready for it.
3) Read over any notes you may have made while writing and see if you gave yourself some guidance (thanks for that, Cole Of The Past)
4) Hey! Stop panicking. You've got this.
5) Don't be afraid to write various scenes in no particular order to get back to your characters, your world, and the plot.
6) If this is a later book in a series, reread the previous stories. You'll find the right voice and motivations again. Your own and your characters' motivations.
7) If it isn't working, don't be afraid to try something totally different until inspiration strikes again.

How do you deal with a runaway plot?


  1. I used to have this issue a lot before I started doing more in-depth outlines. (That's why my drafts ended up too short - I had to backtrack and work in character development afterwards. :P) It's one of the reasons I sometimes draft bits of scenes ahead of time, so I know what I'm working towards. It does help to be able to picture the ending!

    1. Yeah, whereas I was soooo excited, I just left a ton of stuff out, whoops!

  2. Haha, I think I've had this problem recently with my WIP -- I just didn't recognize it was happening until MUCH later than I should have. I need to level up my runway plot recognition skills.

    1. Thankfully I noticed before I would up with a 40k first draft, and it's totally fixable, but GOOD JOB, ME! Way to make your writing life harder :P

      You'll get there. For me, it's a sensation that I'm not entirely in control and the plot *works* but ooooh wow is it short.


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