When Plotting Goes Awry

Why it is useful to identify your influences in writing.

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Have you ever sat down to write, only to find that your characters won’t behave themselves? I find this a lot. Even though I am a plotter my manuscript seems to have a mind of its own and run off in a totally different direction. Now I wouldn’t mind so much if it made sense to what I was trying to write, but my delinquent characters like to swap genres on me if I don’t keep them under control. For example: recently I was writing a scene in my chick-lit novel where my protagonist is discussing marital problems with her friends. It was supposed to lead to us learning more about the situations that had guided her actions thus far, however my manuscript had other plans and the friends switched to discussing the best way to dismember and hide a body.

It made me wonder why my subconscious takes me on little deviations such as this and what it is, other than personal circumstances, at any given time that influences my writing. After much pontification I managed to narrow it down to six different things.

1) Seasonal changes. Most of us are affected by changes in mood when the weather alters. I am in a good mood when the sun is shining and therefore in summer I find it much easier to write light-hearted ‘fluff’ that would make for beach reading. My characters are happy women that sit discussing their lives in the garden whilst drinking wine and watching the sunset. Children laugh as they play in the white topped waves and teenagers delight in sunbathing and sharing secrets behind cupped hands as they eye up the local surfers.

However, as the days draw shorter and the clouds darken with the threat of much needed rain, my mood darkens too. Now my ladies will fight me to become bitter and twisted by the turns that their lives have taken, rather than remaining optimistic and forward thinking. Sometimes it becomes so difficult to keep the story consistent that I put it to one side and start to focus on short stories for the horror and thriller market. I allow my mood to work to my favour and unleash my inner psycho onto the page chuckling to myself as I slaughter anyone who has annoyed me during the week.

2) Time of day. This works in the same way as the seasonal changes. If I am tired I get grumpy or sad and so do my characters. Knowing this allows me to plan when to write certain scenes, happy scenes in the morning, sad ones in the evening.

3) Hunger. Food is a big part of my life, don’t judge me it is my main vice. If I am hungry then my writing either reflects angry, stroppy characters or mentions food a lot. During the editing process I am forced to remove way too many scenes that are set in coffee shops or restaurants. Then, of course there is the small matter that if I am hungry I will procrastinate and not be able to concentrate fully until I have a snack. So acknowledging this I ensure that I am well fed before sitting down to write.

4) Music. I find that I use music liberally when I write. Very often hearing a piece of music will give me the idea for a story, other times I use it to get me in the right frame of mind to reflect my protagonist. When I write horror I will always have an instrumental piece playing that invokes an anger within me that fuels my appetite for abhorrence. The only risk associated with this is that I can get dragged into a musical abyss as I search for the perfect accompaniment and forget that I am supposed to be writing in the first place.

5) Current circumstances. The obvious example of this is the corona virus pandemic. When I first heard about the possibility of a lockdown, I thought that I would make the most of it utilising the time wisely writing new material. However, as they say the ‘best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ and I found that words, all words, began to allude me. Writing was not happening no matter how hard I tried, I would sit and stare at my keyboard for hours. Type a word, delete a word, type a word, delete a word: there was just no start that made any sense. This is typified by any major upheaval in life when writing either becomes a mirror image of the situation or dries up altogether.

6) Books I read. This is possibly the most significant single influence on my manuscript going askew and yet it is the one that I took the longest to identify. It isn’t the content of my reading material that alters my writing but rather the genre. If I am reading a horror novel then my characters lead me down darker paths, adding twists and turns that I later have to go and delete because they transform my document entirely. Whereas if I am reading a happy book then I am unable to write horror, my characters would rather shake hands and go for an afternoon in a beer garden then butcher each other in a maelstrom of bloodshed and carnage.


Knowing what it is that makes me write in a certain way has helped me when it comes to planning out my work. By recognising my shortcomings in consistency I have saved time and effort when it comes to editing and hours of attempting to write prose at the wrong time. Now with any luck, and plenty of snacks, my characters will start to respect their creator once again.

Having always been an avid reader, Zoe now writes fiction and poetry to relax and escape into her own reality for a while.

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