Friday, February 5, 2016

Ripping Out Plotlines

Posted by: Nicole Luiken

When it comes to revisions I believe BIG changes are sometimes necessary. I prefer to do these in the second draft, before I’ve gone to the effort of polishing up my sentences and making them pretty. Story trumps beautiful writing every time—not that I don’t strive for both, I do—but if the story isn’t right, then no amount of polishing is going to save it.

I knew early on in writing the first draft that something was wrong with my subplot featuring minor characters Gabe and Devon. How did I know? Because I didn’t want to write their chapters and conveniently kept ‘forgetting’ them as I worked to push forward the main plot. I even skipped one scene entirely—something I never do. If I don’t want to write a chapter this is a BIG WARNING SIGN that something is wrong; if the idea of it bores me, it’s definitely going to bore readers, too. 

Nevertheless, the main plotline with Mike and Angel was going well, so I pushed on. Sometimes the act of writing a lackluster scene will trigger part of my brain. Bored, it will dump a huge problem on the characters and—sometimes—the scene will catch fire and become engaging. Unfortunately, this method didn’t work for me this time. At the end of the first draft, I had a mostly-good-but-with-some-sticky-spots main plot and a dreadful subplot.

Not enough happened. The characters were basically attending information sessions at a symposium. Some of the romance-arc character moments were there, but a desert stretched between them. Even once I began revisions, I avoided Devon and Gabe’s plotline like a sore tooth.

Then, I happened to read a blog post about disaster movies and something clicked in my brain.Ideas suddenly fizzed. The best part? It all fit with what I had already established for the plot. So on the way to their symposium, Devon and Gabe run into a few problems, like the fact that their aircar has no pilot and is flying over open ocean instead of taking them toward their hotel…


Devon put a sensor dot on Pietr’s wrist to monitor his pulse. It immediately downgraded from green (good) to yellow (poor). “Where’s the wound?” she asked Kip. 

“Here.” Kip parted the hair on the back of Pietr’s head to show her a swelling lump. Not good—but much better than a depression. If his skull had been caved in, he would’ve needed a surgeon, stat.


“Probably.” Kip thumbed open Pietr’s eyes, which had drifted shut. The left was dilated more than the right. “Definitely.” Kip released his hold.

“Incorrect code.”

The aircar lurched violently. Kip kept his seat, buckled in, but Pietr rolled off the bench. Thrown sideways, Devon landed on the other plush bench. She grabbed the end of a seatbelt and held on.

“Reboot!” Gabe yelled from the front.

But the computer must have been programmed with defensive measures to prevent rebooting because the aircar rolled, this time doing a complete revolution. 

Devon heard a loud bang, but focussed on avoiding injury. Days spent in a VR Space game paid off. She twisted and got her feet under her, running in time to the revolutions. Step one on the side window. Step two on the ceiling, Kip hanging above her, cursing. Step three, on the other window, blue ocean beneath her feet and way too close. Falling slightly behind, she tripped on the fourth step, but the van stopped after one revolution, right side up again. She grinned fiercely, happy to get off with only banged shins.

Kip didn’t return her smile. Horror widened his eyes until the whites showed all the way around. The cargo door at the back flapped shut, then open, and she realized that Pietr’s unsecured body ought to have gotten in the way of her dancing-on-the-ceiling routine.

Holding to an overhead rail to resist the floor’s slant, she looked out and saw Pietr flailing in the ocean.

Just freaking wonderful.

Time seemed to slow down. One part of her coolly noted that the waves were low and gentle. That was good. However, the lack of land was very very bad.

“Man overboard!” she yelled over her shoulder, then kicked off her shoes.

Another part of her brain screamed at her. Jumping out of an aircar into a deserted stretch of ocean, no matter how calm and tropical, without an emergency beacon or supplies equalled a death sentence.

But Pietr was concussed. He would drown alone.

In VR, she wouldn’t have hesitated to jump in a save a team member or bystander, confident that the games designer would reward bravery. But this was real. She could really drown, really die.

And so could Pietr.

You don’t even like him.

Distantly surprised by how easy the decision was, she moved to the open doorway, then dived in.

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