Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 9 December 2012

People, place or plot?



I know this is something which has been debated often before, but it interests me enough to return to the subject.  What is it that motivates me most as a writer – or a reader – the people, the places or the plot?

A few years ago I would definitely have said that, for me. it was the people.  Characters, likeable, real characters I can identify with, are what make or break a story.  But as my writing has developed, I find that place is also very important for me and looking back at my favourite books (from the Chalet School series as a child to the magnificent Margaret Elphinstone now) I realise that the setting has also been very important in my reading.  I like to visualise the place, to feel that I have been transported there.  When that happens I know that there is something extra about a book.

And more recently I’ve begun to realise (I’m a little slow, I know) that even if a book has both of the above, for me it doesn’t work properly if they’re not properly knitted together by a good plot.  I don’t mean an action-packed, hook-at-the-end-of-every-chapter plot, but one where there is sufficient mystery and uncertainty and a desire to see things resolved in a way you as reader – or writer – don’t quite know until you get there. 

Yes, I am one of those who ‘writes into the mist’.  I may have a vague idea of plot to begin with, but I have to write my way to seeing how it develops and where it ends.

So it’s not people OR place OR plot – it’s all three.  And, when I'm writing, one doesn’t have to come before the other.  Sometimes an idea for a story starts with the place, sometimes with something as small as the tone of a voice; or it might be a complicated situation.  The key thing is that by the end all these essentials are there, entwined together to create the kind of book I like.

12 comments:

  1. Well Gill I hope my writing is better than my knitting which would have holes and runs all over the place! You are right though, when I consider it, we do need to be able to visualise the place as well as know the people and be intrigued by the plot.

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    1. Thanks Gwen. Your books have all three!

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  2. Spot on, Gill. To me all three are really important. I do plot, but I then keep changing all the way, as things become more and more 'real' in my mind. Just starting another book now, and getting really excited! However, there will be tears before bedtime, undoubtedly, as I can't see my way out of the messes I create. Fortunately, I have great friends to chew problems over with!

    Great post.

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    1. I love the feeling of starting another book! Lucky you, have fun, and thanks.

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  3. Although I mostly always start with characters and don't plot, I do agree that all three elements are important, Gill. I struggle with place sometimes, unless I'm writing about soemwhere I actually know - and therein lies the solution!

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    1. I can't beleive you struggle with place Rosemary, not having read Summer of Eagles. That must be a place you know well? It's portrayed with such love.

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  4. Totally agree, Gill. The three elements are always needed.

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    1. Thanks. It seems obvious now that they are all necessary but I still sometimes forget about plot...

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  5. Whilst I agree, Gill, that all three elements are necessary, the priority given to each can vary from book to book and even from chapter to chapter.

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    1. Yes, that's true. Personally I'm not a fan of books that have lots of plot and not much else but I was surprised to find that I did need a book to have some plot. It takes all sorts!

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  6. Good post and some very interesting comments. Me? I'm a bit odd in that for me it is always an emotion that fires things up. Loss and all the emotions that that can bring with it was the starting point for my first novel. Once I have the emotion, I think 'whose emotion is it? and why? and where? What is she/he going to do about it? More or less the same as eveeryone else but a slightly different starting block.

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  7. I totally agree as well, Gill, but don't always know how I get there! I'm like you, I write into the mist, but somehow hopefully all three of those ingredients will end up in the final version :)

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