Daily Archives: July 12, 2013

A Thickening Plot

If you write, do you have a method?

Just to be clear – I’m not talking about the sort of method this guy would’ve understood:

There are no words that do this picture adequate justice.  Image: guardian.co.uk

There are no words that do this picture adequate justice. I’ll just leave it here, and you can do what you want with it. Okay? Okay.
Image: guardian.co.uk

I’m talking about whether you have a routine – as in, do you write in a particular place, at a particular time? Do you prefer a pen to a computer? Do you have to start your writing session with a cup of coffee, or a spot of bracing Tai-Chi, or a shot of tequila?* Do you dress in ‘outdoor’ clothes, or do you prefer to slob around in your sweats, or do you (and if you do, it would perhaps be prudent to keep this information to yourself) write entirely in the nude? I’m sure some people do. I firmly believe that if you can imagine something, no matter how ‘out there’ it might seem, it has happened somewhere in the world at some time.

Not – I hasten to add – that I’m imagining any of you writing in the nude right now.

Please excuse me as I drag this post back on track; talk amongst yourselves, if you wouldn't mind! Image: iblogfashion.blogspot.com

Please excuse me as I drag this post back on track; talk amongst yourselves, if you wouldn’t mind!
Image: iblogfashion.blogspot.com

Anyway – moving briskly on.

So, I’m wondering today about routine, and whether or not it’s a good thing from a writer’s point of view. My writing days are pretty much all the same – I get up early, I start early, I work right through the day, usually writing through lunch. I go for a walk in the early afternoon, most days, and then it’s back to writing until about 5pm, whereupon I start getting ready for my husband’s return from work, and I do my best to switch off for the evening. This morning, however, there was a little disruption to that routine, and – would you believe it? – I found it one of the most useful and inspirational things I’ve done in a long time.

My husband had to do some work this morning on our computer, which meant I wasn’t able to log on and footle around on the internet like I usually do first thing. I normally spend about ten minutes checking my blog and my emails, looking at Twitter and seeing what’s going on in the world, gathering inspiration for my blog post and for the day ahead, before I get stuck into the real meat of my day’s work. Today, though, I had the simple pleasure of sitting over a book, waiting for my hard-working and apologetic husband to get through the task he had to complete. Of course it was wonderful to have him here at home for a little longer than expected, even if he was focused on the job at hand during all that time – but that wasn’t the only wonderful thing that happened as a result of my enforced time-out.

A whole chunk of plot, something really exciting and unforeseen, just dropped into my head this morning as I sat looking out at the brightening day, thinking about my work. A whole section of storyline, compelling and interesting and dramatic, started to bloom inside my head like a shy rosebud as I ran to find a pen and some paper to make notes, scrambling like a ninny (I never have pen and paper handy!) I got the bones of the idea down on paper, and then I sat looking at it for a while, wondering how on earth this idea just landed in my brain, and where it came from. Yesterday, when I switched off my computer after my day’s writing, I left the story at a point which could have led me in several different directions, and I wasn’t sure which way I was going to go. I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it. I was keeping things loose, and easy, and free. I was relaxed enough to let it lie, at least overnight, and see what would develop. And, this morning, that relaxed patience paid off.

The last time I wrote ‘Tider’, I had the whole thing exhaustively plotted, right from Day 1. I knew where I wanted the story to go, I had an idea of how the last scene would look before I’d even written the first chapter, I had diagrams and drawings and schematics of all the different plots and subplots and characters and their relationships to one another. I did character profiles, finding out what my protagonists liked to eat for breakfast and what sort of dreams they’d had for their lives as children and how the colour blue made them feel, and all sorts of things. I had Big Ideas for this book, and I wanted it to work. I really did.

But even with all that effort, it just… didn’t. ‘Tider’ (Mark 1) didn’t work. It couldn’t work. It was like a crab with a shell that just won’t stop growing, getting heavier and heavier until finally the creature can’t carry it any more, and it just has to lie down and let the shell crush it slowly into the sea floor. There was so much plot, so many things happening, that the characters were lost under all the encrustation. I didn’t take into account the fact that as you write a book, the plot changes – your characters affect the way the story unfolds. I didn’t, of course, know that when I started out. The plot I’d created was complicated and inflexible and mechanical – Event A affects Events B and C, which affect Event D, and so on – and didn’t allow for spontaneous change. Hence, I was always patching it up and trying to fix it with desperate last-minute tweaks, which ended up having ripple effects that, finally, spelled doom for the story overall.

I didn’t see all this at the time. I do now, which is great, but I wish I’d realised it as I was writing the book. That’s how we learn, though, isn’t it?

This time around, I don’t have an exhaustive plot in place for ‘Tider’. I have an idea where I want the story to go, but it’s not set in stone. The chunk of plot I came up with today only brings me so far – up to the next corner, perhaps, around which anything could be lying in wait. But I’ve realised that’s enough; I can work with that. I can let the characters live out their story, and I’ll write it down as they tell it to me. It’s not exactly ‘pantsing’ – i.e. making up the story entirely as you go along, ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – but it’s the next best thing, maybe. It’s giving the plot enough breathing room to develop naturally, which makes it more life-like, messier, and more ‘real’.

One thing I do know for sure, though, is that changing up my morning routine shook my brain around just enough to get it to think in a new way, and that my story will be all the better for it. I’ll have to plan a little chaos into my writing routine from now on!

I hope your Friday is unexpected, in all the best ways possible. Happy weekend!




*I’m not advocating writing under the influence, even though it has worked quite well, albeit briefly, for several writers a whole lot more talented than me!