I generally like to think I have the hang of putting a plot together. I’ve published eighteen novels, a writing guide, writing courses, hundreds of short stories and more than a dozen serials.
Recently, though, for the first time in years, I gave up on an idea (though I termed it ‘putting it on the back burner’ because that sounds less defeatist than ‘gave up’). I wrestled with it in a large notebook and a small notebook. I printed out what I had and made notes on it. I cut bits out of a notebook and tried to force some kind of order and spark into the operation. I even wrote with different coloured pens.
What had seemed like a great idea on Sunday was dead by Tuesday, even though I had what seemed like some promising elements:
- A setting – Malta, one of my favourite places in the world
- a past issue between hero and heroine (not always necessary but often helpful)
- sympathetic characters (designed for readers to like)
- unsympathetic characters (who readers will probably curl their lips at)
- secondary characters
- a pivotal character (again not vital but I like to recognise when there’s a character without whom the plot wouldn’t work)
- appropriate careers for hero and heroine
- a contemporary issue to shine a light on
…but the idea didn’t ‘work’.
So, what went wrong? I think I had a list, not a plot. If a plot is a map through a story, mine had no roads – just the places, and nothing to link them. It feels like a pretty rookie error that I forgot my own first principle – make the conflicts of hero and heroine in some way impact upon one another. Make him want to develop a property and her have reason to try and stop the development; or have them both want to help an elderly character but have opposing views on how to do it. In other words, make sure they have a stake in each other’s story.
I didn’t start in the wrong place in my story, I started in the wrong place in my planning.
Not every writer plans, but I do. My planning is often haphazard, the method varies from book to book, but, as I’ve just found out, it’s important to get it right.
Luckily – I have another idea to work on, so I think I’ll just get on with that.
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