Anybody whose been around construction, or undertaken a home project or two, recognizes the term plum line. It's a piece of string, coated with colored chalk, and when you roll it out and snap it against whatever you're working on it imprints the chalk on the surface. This provides you with a visible reference point to ensure you either remain level, or lay things out in a straight line.
What I've discovered with my writing is that although I had heavily outlined and plotted events in my chapters very carefully, I could still drift away from my core premise. When I'm writing I make adjustments and go with elements I may not have plotted out, because it makes sense at the time and it moves the story in the direction I want to go. But sometimes a small change early on can turn into a major deviation when the project is completed. Without a plum line to keep you centered, to maintain a point of reference, you can drift very easily. And the result is not what you intended when you began.
When I completed the final chapter of my book this past weekend, something felt off. And I couldn't really pin-point what it was. I should have felt elated with my accomplishment, but instead I had this unfulfilled sensation. You know how you feel sometimes after you've just eaten, but you're still hungry. What finally helped me realize the problem was sitting down with my wife and having her tell me what she felt the book was about.
Her answer was this. The book is very much a buddy book. A tight-knit group of friends (she called them rag-tag) pull together when one of their own is attacked and anothers business (Detective Agency) is put in jeopardy. The resulting investigation lands them in the middle of an unrivaled crime spree. What I realized while she was explaining this to me was that the last 1/3 of the book focused very little on the group of friends and instead had shifted to a single friend and a FBI agent helping her. The way the book ended, although satisfying, was not on my plum line.
So I have to go back to work and make adjustments. It's all part of learning how to write, and I can't let it frustrate me. What I find encouraging is that I felt something was wrong before I knew what it was. That makes me feel that my internal compass, although not as visual and immediate as a plum line, is working just fine.