That writing thing…

I really need to start practising what I preach. When I critique work for other writers, the two main points I invariably pick up on are show don’t tell – that oh-so-important mantra that is the key to fluid writing – and have a plan. You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

So why is it so hard for me to do the latter? I admit I’m crap at following maps. And the novel that’s been tormenting me for nearly five years now started life as a NaNoWriMo – I just wrote and wrote and waited to see what happened, and the joy of it was immense. Characters appeared by themselves, did what they wanted, and my subconscious got free reign. It was great fun.

Then I read it through and thought – hmm, this doesn’t really make sense!

So last year I got it out of the drawer where it had languished for nearly two years and discovered that actually it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. My writing style isn’t awful, though it does need a good polish. Some of my ideas were good and worth keeping, as was a character or two. My heroine though was a pain in the backside – I just haven’t got her voice right. But the main thing was I’d written without a plan and it showed. There were gaping plot holes, and the pace was all wrong, and I just wasn’t sure what kind of story I was telling. It veered from one genre to another and just didn’t sit right in any.

So I’ve gone back to the beginning. This involves a notebook, pens, an outrageous amount of post-it notes (I should buy shares in the company!) and a hell of a lot of thinking time before I start re-writing.

The first thing I noticed was that there were really two stories and I was only telling one half, so now I have two heroines – one contemporary, one in the past. And suddenly, my new heroine seems far more interesting. If I can get a handle on her voice and motivations, my contemporary heroine should fall into line, as a contrast and a continuation. And telling the story of the past allows the story taking place in the present to actually have more impact – that’s the resolution. So my notebook at the moment has names with spider diagrams with details about each character – the facts about them (birthdate, job, personality) and their journey (in love with, resentful of, etc). Then the plot starts to come together, pulled naturally from these people. Just why does heroine A get involved with villain B, and what’s his devious plan? How does it start to unravel? What are the consequences? Who does what and where and when? There are clusters of post-it notes (not quite colour-coded, but almost!) asking why? and how? and saying needs a proper motive! So although all the answers aren’t there yet, as I look at my characters in their little webs, they start to become more corporeal, and I can start to feel he would never do that, she would say this, and the plot starts to form into something plausible and interesting.

It’s going to take me a while to get this right, because I don’t want any holes in my plot, or any of my cast acting out of character. And when I start writing, my characters may tell me I’ve misunderstood, or insist on going their own way. But once the structure of my plot is formed, I will have control. And that’s a good feeling!

Published by Jo

Writer, Editor, Librarian

2 thoughts on “That writing thing…

  1. Over the years I’ve bought countless books on planning novels. None of them have really helped. However, about two years ago, I came across something that really did the trick for me: “Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell.

    This is a book that’s been written by someone who appears to have been able to distil his own writer’s journey into something that is simple to follow.

    Before you rush out to buy this, perhaps I should add the caveat that one man’s meat is another man’s drivel…

    1. I’ve read this too and I agree, it’s very good. Nancy Kress is another writer whose advice I take heed of – her Beginnings, Middles and Ends is complete sense!

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