Here’s the truth. The ten-point plan? It’s not sacrosanct. I had a ten-point plan the very first year I did NaNoWriMo, and there were at least two elements from the plan that never resulted in anything. They were could-haves, rather than musts, which is EXACTLY what the plan has to be. You need to treat it like directions from Google Maps, that tells you exactly where you want to go, but perhaps not the best or most exciting way to get there. If at point three, you want to go off and do something else for a while, do it. Explore your story!

There’s more tangents than just that, though, and for a health dose of both intrigue and surprise, you can make use of foreshadowing, misdirection and red herrings. Sometimes these can be achieved through your subconscious, because you’ve put in a detail here and there.

If you know of a specific event that might not seem plausible on its own, foreshadowing can ease the story through a tricky suspension of disbelief. If magic suddenly shows up on page 200 of your fantasy novel, without having been alluded to at all, it is going to seem outside the rules of the world you’ve shown. If there’s subtle magic, or talk about magic, followed by occurrences, then by the time your big page 200 reveal happens, it won’t feel incongruous with the rest of the story. Is the cop’s sidekick crooked? She might be a little more brutal, or look the other way for a smaller crime earlier on – a loyal honest sidekick shouldn’t have a personality shift mid-story, unless there’s extenuating circumstances.

Misdirection is helpful in a story, for leading the reader one way while another’s happening. Common enough in mysteries or thrillers, it’s a good way to keep the reader interested. The bard is being shifty, doing deals with a mysterious figure. Is it a coincidence that the enchanted necklace is missing now? Why is the healer suddenly so interested in going to the market? The lawyer discovers that his client is lying, but doesn’t know why. Is he guilty, or is there some other reason? The goal is to make it plausible that something is happening, when in reality it isn’t.

Red herrings are a kind of misdirection, but I tend to think of them more in the macguffin sense. They’re a detail that could mean something, but then might not. The radio is busted, or there’s a locked door. It could mean something, but it might not. It could be used for misdirection, but if the story turns, it could also be used to foreshadow. If nothing happens with it, then it doesn’t matter. The characters won’t obsess over “why was this door locked”, and the reader won’t either. There’s often a kind of serendipity attached to these additions, as they’re potential nuggets for a story, and sometimes they’ll fill gaps you weren’t aware of, while at other times they remain dormant.

The Short Version:

You should treat your ten-point plan as a guide of where you intended to go. If new ideas emerge, you can leave the plan and follow them. The plan is always there to come back to if needed.

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Next: The Players

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