I’m plotting a book. Yes. I’m a plotter. 100%.
Needless to say, I’m up to my eyeballs in sticky-note-plot-points, planning worksheets, mini-brainstorming posts with critique partners, etc. And for a reason I couldn’t understand, I found myself being too cyclical in my plot.
Cyclical writing is when a theme, conversation, mood, etc. continually gets revisited. Like, to the point that the reader says, “I feel like I’ve read this before.” Or even thinks, “Get on with it already. Yes, you struggle with self-doubt. We get it. Move on!”
Anyone read a book like that? I know I have.
In my manuscript, I have a reunion romance with a twist – childhood sweethearts who, while still wounded, create a marriage of convenience in order to adopt a large sibling group. I really like this premise. The problem? Keeping my characters from falling back into their old arguments about the past again and again and again and again.
So, why does cyclical writing happen? Why do we sometimes pick up a book to find ourselves stuck in a whirlpool, going ’round and ’round? Here is one reason I’ve found.
The reason we write cyclically is we don’t have enough current conflict.
Here are some tips for keeping your characters out of the plot whirlpool:
- When you find yourself writing something that you remember bringing up already in the manuscript, stop and think: Do I really need this?Sometimes issues have to be brought up a second and third time. Sometimes not. Generally, if it’s something huge, you only have to mention it once, and your reader will get it. For example, if your character meets up with an old flame who had an affair, you won’t need to mention the affair every time those characters are together. Once may be enough. The memory will shine through the other story events as subtext. It will actually be more emotionally effective if you don’t call it by name a second time and only show its lasting effects.
- If you don’t need it, replace it with something stronger.This goes back to the present conflict idea. Readers only want to know enough of the past that it seasons the present, like spices. They want to read stories where the characters are working through current messes. You’re probably revisiting old wounds because you don’t have enough for your characters to focus on at present, so find ways to add new material.
- Even in current messes, you have to be careful of not revisiting the same argument again and again.My main characters are essentially in competition with the sibling group’s uncle, who also wants to adopt them (with ulterior motives). But even in the current conflict, if every conversation my hero and the uncle have is basically the same “You won’t get away with this” dialogue, then they won’t propel the story forward and the reader will notice the story losing its punch. Dig deeper each time. Instead of using the same argument again, find a twist to make the story worse. Find an angle you haven’t discussed. Steer clear of each potentially-cyclical moment by making it unique.
- Give your characters superpowers.I got this idea from author Rachel Hauck, and it’s so true. If your character constantly says, “I’m so imperfect. I’m so flawed,” then we stop caring and believing on them. Sad but true. Give them a moment to shine. Yes, maybe they are afraid of commitment, but make them an excellent listener. Find a ‘redeeming quality’ and show it in action, so you don’t constantly revisit the flaw scene after scene, chapter after chapter.
What other tips would keep us from cyclical writing?