Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 14 April 2012

DON'T FORGET THE PLOT

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!

13 comments:

  1. All that strikes a chord,Gill. A useful reminder...now back to writing to put some of your ideas into action.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can identify with all you say here, Gill. Thanks for the tips - I'm going to try to keep your four questions in mind as I write.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Freda Lightfoot asked me if I was a plotter or a panster.....love that description and really pleased to find someone else writes like I do. Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh, how I identify with that problem of writing into the mist! I can't write to a plan either, Gill, but I sometimes wish I could. Excellent points above.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for your comments Myra, Joan, Linda and Rosemary. Interesting that so many of us do 'write into the mist'. Linda, my New Zealand writer-friend also calls herself a pantser (sp?), which always makes me smile. It makes me picture her with her skirt rucked up...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm usually a pantster, I write into the mist, however, my current book was more planned than usual with the plot fully thought out, and oh dearie me it's hard going. I lose impetus, my characters decide they need a break and take time off. Only time will tell whether this novel is better, worse, or my usual page turner. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Next time I'm going back to being a pantster.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting that you're taking this different approach Chris. I'm really interested to know how it goes and whether you find the end result worthwhile. Let me know!

      Delete
  7. An interesting and useful post, Gill.
    I wonder if sometimes when characters are not doing as the writer wants if it is an indication they know of a better plotline?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish that was true Mary, but unfortunately too much of the time the characters just seem to be chatting about nothing much and not giving an indication of anything. Maybe my characters, like me, need to be more forcused?

      Delete
  8. A very useful post, Gill, and something we all need to remember. Sometimes I wish I could write to a plan but it just doesn't work for me. Like you I have to go back and prune out the parts which slow up the story too much, or serve no useful purpose.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's great we're all different, isn't it? I used to be a pantster, but now I force myself to plot. It's hard work, very hard, but for me it pays off. And anyway, you can change it as you go along - it's just that you know what you change it to is for a good reason - so it will improve the book. Hopefully...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for your interesting post, Gill. I'm a plotter. I've tried writing into the mist - nothing happened. I find plotting a skeleton story works for me - I know it's all there, but there is room to add extra bits as they pop into my mind as I write. It's fascinating how all writers are different. It's finding what's the right way for you as an individual that's important and it can take a while.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Kate, Jenny - you make me think maybe I should try a bit harder with that plot line? This is certainly making me think about it. I'm running a workshop on plotting tonight, so will be interested on the feedback from there too.

    Thanks for all your comments - they'll definitely inform the discussion.

    ReplyDelete