Don’t Forget The Plot may seem like an odd thing to say to a novelist, because surely a novel is all about plot? Even novels which are strong on character or location still have to have a plot to hang this around.
And that’s true. But the problem for me is I can get so caught up in character and relationships, the conversations and thoughts that people have, the places they are in, that I all too easily find I’ve veered away from my original concept of the plot. Sometimes this is fine, the characters are finding their voices and changing things for the better, but sometimes I have to admit that, sadly, I’m just being self-indulgent. The story is wandering all over the place and readers are going to lose patience.
The reader is reading the story because they want to know where the story goes – and it definitely must GO somewhere. Likeable characters, wonderful locations, funny jokes – these are all very well and can add massively to the quality, but without the story you won’t sell your book and you won’t get readers to read it. So I think it’s worth saying again – don’t forget the plot!
To help myself, I’ve started to try to keep the following questions in mind as I write:
· Is this scene essential to the plot? If not, lose it.
· Is what is happening now interesting to the reader? More interesting than what happened in the last scene? If not, lose it.
· Do the main character’s actions in this scene bring them closer to achieving their overall goal(s)? If so, keep it.
· Is there conflict in this scene that will make it harder for my characters to achieve their goal(s)? If so, keep it.
Other things to bear in mind – the characters(s) must have a goal, but mustn’t realise it too soon or achieve it too easily. Conflict is good.
Because I write ‘into the mist’, i.e. I don’t map out my plot in great detail in advance, it is all the easier to get way-laid by non-essential scenes along the way. Sometimes these are useful as they help me to get to know my characters better or indicate a new sub-plot, but they rarely end up in the final draft, and so to a large extent are a waste of time and effort.
Ideally I would write a detailed synopsis, have all my plot worked out, and stick to it. Then I wouldn’t have to keep reminding myself about plot, would I? Unfortunately I just can’t do that. I’ve tried. The problem is, once I’ve written that really detailed synopsis, my brain somehow disengages, it feels it’s finished with that story and wants to move on. And then I can’t write that story at all, no matter how much plot it has.
So I have to write the way I write. I find when too many of the non-essential scenes start building up, I have to pause and go back and read what I have written to date. And, usually, (magically) the plot ‘arc’ shows itself to me, hidden amongst all these non-essentials. Then I tidy up what I’ve written and can race on ahead – until the next distraction.
I’m hoping to suffer from fewer of these distractions if I keep these words in front of me – Don’t Forget The Plot!