Since the last two blog posts were about setting and characterization, logically this one should be about plot. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I am a planner when it comes to plots. I sit down when I first get an idea for a story and do a ‘chunking’ exercise. This is when I let my imagination run unfettered, without any restraints. The weird and wacky ideas are given as much chance as the more rational possibilities. I sit down and write down chunks of text, feeling my way through the original inspiration.
At this point, I might have some idea of my setting and my characters, but they aren’t fully realised. I need a plot to generate the characters and setting; conversely, I need to know my characters to get a feel for the events that will be in the plot. The ‘chunking’ exercise helps draw out the relationships between the characters, the setting and the plot. This will help me generate a timeline and a plotting grid.
So, at this point, I have a map of what is going to happen and the order of the events. I can set off on my journey with some idea of what is going to happen along the way. Other writers prefer to write without a map, and I admire their strength of spirit; I couldn’t work that way.
I start filling in the events, while at the same time I am learning more and more about my characters. I have two methods for ‘filling’ in the map. Sometimes I start at the beginning and work through to the end. Sometimes I will write the big scenes first, and they will give me a better idea of what needs to happen in the lead up to these scenes, and what the repercussions will be for my characters.
It is at this point that the plot will go through its first set of changes. As I get more familiar with my characters, I sometimes find that certain scenes won’t fit into the plot any more as that will mean someone acting ‘out of character’. I might find I need more or less characters, to fit in with the vagrancies of the plot. Even as I am writing the first draft, I will deviating from my map. And so the map gets changed. My plots are very, very flexible in the early stages.
Now – I know I harp on this but it can’t be said enough – there is no wrong way to writing a novel. If you feel more comfortable plotting in a different manner, run with it. I am just sharing my methodology for those people who are still seeking a methodology of their own, or are like me and are absolutely fascinated with the processes of other writers.
With the current Steampunk Work-in-Progress, my original inspiration was reading the biography of Beatrix Potter, and how her sterling work with studying British fungi was unrecognised by the British scientific community simply because she was born a woman. The unfairness of her position pricked my muse. So I decided to create my own ‘Beatrix’, a young woman with an extraordinary intellect, fighting against the misogyny of her society. Alice has a lot more happen to her than just struggling for academic recognition, and yet all her adventures had their beginning in wanting to empower Beatrix Potter.
You know you’ve hit the right mix of plot, characterization and setting when you find it easy to write a scene. This is due to your mental flow not being interrupted by inconsistencies. Generally, if it is easy to write, it is easy to read. Some days the words will just fly onto the page. It is the best feeling in the world.
However, there are going to be days when the words sink to the bottom of the cesspit. They stink. But it is better to keep struggling, because you will working towards understanding what is wrong. Think of those heavy words as stepping stones.
I’ll give you an example from another WiP … a YA vampire parody novel (I always have several projects on the go). I had one of a loving vampire couple having an affair with a human, because she misses being human. I was having so much trouble writing those scenes. Oh boy, was I stuck! That was because I was writing against the character, who passionately loves her husband. My muse was just about shouting at me how I was creating a huge mound of plot problems for myself if I kept that event in the plot. So I changed it, and did a complete rewrite to erase the incident entirely. Suddenly, the blockage was gone and the words were flowing again. Character and plot and setting were back in sync.
My biggest problem was that I was kind of attached to the scene where the husband confronted his wife. This is what they mean by ‘kill your darlings’. Never be so in love with a scene, even if it fabulous with snappy dialogue, if it is going to create plot holes.
So, in the end, my plotting technique isn’t for everybody, but it works well for me. I would love to hear from anyone who has a different technique that works well for them.