There are quite a few books and articles out there about the small number of plots, usually a number well below ten, that all stories can be mapped to. Editors and reviewers will often quickly spot the type of plot and then grade the story by how well it adheres to the typical and related plot map.
Perhaps the quest doesn’t start early enough or the monster isn’t menacing enough, whatever the case, plots can be made a little too paint-by-numbers if we aren’t careful. Generally, the plots are the planned stops on the trip and everything else that happens are the small detours and other (occasionally unplanned) stops along the way.
I like to keep the plot on track, but still give the characters a little freedom to take some unscheduled stops along the way. Whatever the method, the goal remains to keep the plot going while still making a story feel fresh and new.
I took this photo in Scotland on The Jacobite steam train, as I jockeyed for space at the window in a sea of other tourists to snap a photo as the train edged along the Glenfinnan viaduct. In trying to allow everyone to have a few seconds at the window, I didn’t even have time to really see the photo until I had sat back down at my seat (and I barely had time to appreciate the view).
That entire train trip was made completely unique when the track curved along the viaduct, resulting in a trip like no other. Yes, there are other beautiful train trips in the world and other trains that cross viaducts. And yes, there are millions of miles of train tracks that are all the same, with maybe a handful of differences. But, like a great novel, there is only one that takes this exact journey and that makes all the difference. Keeping the plot on track is every writer’s responsibility, as is providing a unique journey for the characters that is still unlike any other. What a wonderful challenge!