Tag Archives: plotting

Plots, Sequels and Radio Interviews!

Well, what a lot has been achieved this week… lots of plotting and planning. Four hours each morning with a notebook and I think I am about ready to start my sequel to one of my novels on Monday. Yay!

I have blogged about many things on here, mostly writerly, but not on plotting and ‘idea brainstorming’. I don’t think you can force ideas to come, you have to let them show up. Sometimes they march in without knocking and plonk themselves down in front of you. Here I am! Other times they whisper as you sleep or drift in and out like a tide that you can’t hold onto, you have it, you don’t. It’s a tease until you grab it and hold onto it like a wriggling cat until it settles on your lap.

This week has been enlightening. And it’s been exciting. You just never know who or what is going to show up. The good news is that for all its convolutions and complexities that have to be part of this novel to make it a good sequel, the ideas have come mostly pretty well formed and the new characters even told me their names! I am getting to know them now! While I never planned it this way, I have ideas for the two books that will make this a trilogy — and scope for more later. I had not planned to ‘plan’ the third book but since there is this thing called ‘foregrounding’– the legwork for the next one, i.e. the planting of the seeds — then it makes perfect sense. I now know how it all ends and what has to happen in the third one. I even have ideas for the names of the books. I am excited ❤

So how much do you plan?

Well, not too much. That said, if you were to see my notebook you would say I have it pretty much worked out, and I guess I kind of do. However, the true magic of writing happens when you allow your subconscious to guide you. Plots change. They change because as you write, things need to happen: pacing things! When you read a great novel and a chapter ends with one of those moments: another body is found, someone isn’t who you think they are — you know, ‘the unexpected reveal’, well, I like to think it’s by magic. A lot of these, I think, are not planned. They just happen. I have had a character  walk in and make a statement and I’ve spent the next hours, maybe days, working out why and what it means. Truly. Something in me knew it had to happen, and every time it really was vital to the story, I just didn’t know it when I planned the book! See, magic! Writing is magic. You need to plot and plan, absolutely — but then you need to allow the magic in.

I can’t wait to get writing now.

And in other news…

Cover reveal!

My short story collection is out in July and I will be in conversation with Tony Fisher on BBC Radio Essex this very afternoon from 2 pm talking writing and short stories! Do tune in: here’s the link!

TONY FISHER ARTS SHOW

And, here it is… my cover. Me and my nan! Her photo was taken in the 1930s and relates to the last story in the book, the newest short story of mine 🙂

Because Sometimes Medium

Out July 2019

Launch Event, St Nicholas Church, Canvey Island, July 19th 7 pm, all welcome!

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Critique of Plots

I was asked at writing group how I handled plot critique and if I made suggestions about the directions people’s stories should take.

Plots are a tricky one as this is the part based on your idea and therefore I never want to hijack anyone’s idea.

I analyse plots carefully, often providing a story arc if I feel the who/where/when aspects and the question driving the novel or short story has not been focused enough. Perhaps the shape is off, perhaps some areas don’t build the tension enough or the subplots aren’t integral enough to the main thread. Perhaps the middle loses direction or the ending fails to resolve the burning question of the story.

So I look at key plot points and ask the pertinent questions, I also look at character change as a function of plot and at motivation for action.

I only suggest actual plot ideas or make suggestions about how something might be changed if I can see the fix and even then I tend to point out it’s Debz the writer and therefore more subjective when I make suggestions. Usually it’s highlighting an area of weakness and the hope is they come up with a third better alternative.

That is all!

Allotments in Bingley, West Yorkshire, UK...C3AHJE Allotments in Bingley, West Yorkshire, UK

Don’t lose the plot!

 

 

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Some Insights into the Magic of Writing… don’t overplan it!

While in all other aspects of my life I am a control freak for planning and preparation, when it comes to novels and short stories, while I of course plan and do my research, I don’t do it to death. And for good reason. I have talked of this before, but I do truly believe that the magic happens as you create and some of the best characters and  scenes and, in particular for me, nuances of character come spontaneously.

With the new novel Chutney, it certainly feels that way. For all the books and reading around the subject; from carrot growing to surviving Belsen, with some research on football, the royals and bipolar thrown in there, the detail and even one of the really important plot points came by magic. George said something at the end of a chapter that was so unexpected it changed what I thought about him. If it surprised me, it will sure surprise the reader!

I then had to look at how that would affect the reader sympathy since you should like George from the outset and this comes along and says: I am not who you think I am. We later come to learn why he did what he did and I think while it might reshape some of our thinking, it doesn’t change how we see him completely or feel about him. Or it shouldn’t. And it lead to some interesting ideas later explored, about love and how far we’d go.

In addition, some of the other aspects of personality came from characters just saying things or acting in an unexpected way that had me having to look at them more closely to work them out. To the readers out there this might sound crazy; after all we are the writers so how can characters do these things; but writers out there will know what I’m talking about. One of my favourite characters in Colourblind (the second novel I ever wrote and one that I have to rework with new insight as a writer) walked into a café scene I had so carefully set up, not quite knowing why I had. He walked in and sat down and I loved him the minute he opened his mouth; in spite of his creepiness and lingering sense of mystery. He became so important to plot how could I have not planned him? His name is Jake Washington and he is blacker than black with the whites of his eyes gleaming and his cheekbones like high-pitched tent poles. He has always been old. This retired preacher just walks into scenes when he’s needed and represents some kind of metaphor for spontaneity. So I now call those moments when the magic defines the plot, in a way I could never have planned, my Jake Washington moments.

It’s when you come to edit you need to go back and make sure the foregrounding is there if needed, although I quite like to try to keep the spontaneity of these moments with the philosophy if I didn’t see it coming, nor will the reader.

I kind of had a moment a little like this yesterday — a variation of a Jake Washington moment perhaps. The structure of the new novel is built in since it all takes place over a single year, 1999, and so the framework is there. I chose the dates for chapters with knowledge of world events etc, but other times I simply chose dates that fitted the plot; as I did with the latest chapter called… should I reveal?

Oh why not.

It might change anyway but at the moment it’s called: July 1 1999: Making Chutney (in East London on a wet Thursday afternoon). I know from word count (and plot events) this occurs about half way, but as I was looking at events on that date I realised something important about July 1st and it’s something that George later says; July 1st in half-way through the year. I had never thought about that. In fact if 1999 had been a leap year, 183 days have been and 183 days are left. This also has real significance to the story. 1999 is not a leap year so 182 days have passed and 183 are left which means they have almost reached the half-way point; the point as Billy says, of no return. It might seem a bit odd to the readers out there but this sense that the middle of the book also represents the middle of the year, and quite by accident, feels hugely important for me mentally. And it makes me think of what’s really behind this magic; the reason phones ring at the end of scenes you never planned to write and you have those Jake Washington moments. It’s something in you, something from all your years reading, watching, listening to stories. It’s something that intuitively tells you something needs to happen now. In fact you know about story shape even if you think you don’t you do. So it is magic or the subconscious at play?

I like to think of these Jake Washington moments as magic — (because they are!); as signs and so I’d advise: don’t ignore them.

Some of the best things happen when you give into the magic.

Do share any of your Jake Washington moments.

Have a wonderful day everyone!

Magic

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Credibility

I seem to have said this word a far amount of late, so thought I would give a brief mention this chilly January morning!

Even if you write fantasy, explore new realities in Sci fi, create mythical creatures this still applies — because no matter the genre, your story needs credibility.

This is established by creating the rules if the fictional world is not of this world, and if the story is set in reality then we know the rules, but you will still create them for your  characters. So if a character does something quite bizarre, the signs have to be there, it has to feel credible for this particular character. Rules have to be there, and you make them as you write, even if you don’t think about that.

Sometimes we get carried away with what we let happen to our characters and I find myself saying– really? That’s enough to make that character do that? No way that character would ever be brave enough to do that, no, I’m sure the police would never do that — get my drift?

The latter is a case of checking facts, and with the internet even that is a lot easier these days, but make sure the source is reputable, and you’ve checked the fact in a book or it’s verified from several sources. Reading is a vital part of writing,as you know. But what people often don’t think about is what motivates the character for action.

This is vital so as you plot you need to build in events, memories, actions that make the resultant behaviour of a character plausible — hence credible. If it’s a step too far the reader will know it.

I have been playing with some plot issues these past few days with the latest novel, a  challenge setting a story partly in a place I’ve never been, Moscow, and unsure of the kinds of procedures universities in Russian might implement with regards to a feral child! That said I have done my research — and here comes the thing — if the information is not there  i.e. you create a fictional situation that is ‘unusual’ then you may have more leeway to use your imagination.

This is where you play the ‘but this is fiction’ card and so long as it feels plausible, you will ‘probably’ get away with it. And I say probably because make sure you don’t stretch possibility too far, make it feel right and people will buy into it.

I had to do this in While No One Was Watching, since one of my first-person narrators is a psychic, and for some, gaining information through insights and visions, may have felt ‘incredible’. I was careful (and remember I did talk to a psychic and research this) to ensure the reader bought into this. And Lydia didn’t always get it right, the facts came through in stunted ways so it was controlled and since everyone seems to love Lydia I think I got this balance right — and someone who could have been an ‘incredible’ character has been loved for feeling so real — great, that’s what I wanted.

If you stretch credibility too far, you could lose your reader, so take heed!

So today I will be re-examining my plot issues … it’s really important to get this right.

Have a great day all!

The new cover for the second edition!

The new cover for the second edition!

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Subplots

I thought I would say a few words about subplots. Why we need them and why we don’t.

Why am I talking subplots?

Shrugs. Dunno. Why not?

It’s simple, life isn’t … simple that it. Life is complex, and conflicts overlap all the time. We have our own fights and we also become, sometimes unwittingly, embroiled in the fights or dilemmas of those around us. They steer us off course, surprise us and add more layers to our otherwise simple lives. Right?

That’s subplot.

So the use of subplot is a device that makes your fiction seem more real.

Yep that’s what I said. Subplot makes it more real, mimicking real life. You see,  even when a plot, or should I say a story or issue, dominates our lives, i.e. the sudden death of a loved one that overwhelms us, we still have to deal with the phone ringing and the boiler’s broken down, we’ve run out of loo paper … oh  and now your neighbour’s kid is always in your house, watching your TV because she’s always fighting with her mum. While the real plot might well focus on the death and perhaps this is a cheery story (!) of how a woman comes to terms with her sudden loss and reinvents herself, a liberation from her drunken wife-beating husband (who knows!) the focus of the main plot is his death and her journey. BUT  if this is the only storyline it won’t feel real. Even if she obsesses and has a breakdown, whatever her internal conflict, it will feel a whole lot more real if you add colour; add little subplots that tell their own story. BUT, and this is important (pay attention … bossy aren’t I?)  at the same time subplots must augment the main plot. So in essence the subplot still drives the main story, by feeding into it.

Now … perhaps it’s the teenage boy who lives up the road who  leaves an injured magpie  on  our poor grieving widow’s doorstep because he knows she needs something to care for, that ignites a passion in ornithology. And while she slowly grows an affection for the boy, she previously saw as an idiot, she finds a new hobby. And it’s the man that comes from the RSPCA to help her release the magpie back to the wild that makes her realise there are good men … where is all this coming from … dunno, I am mad … it helps!

But see how an innocent subplot can become integral to the main plot.

And here is the test with subplots, the litmus test … if you remove it and the story still stands, maybe you don’t need it?

"Yeah, subplot needs to be there ... "

 

Like everything else you write, it has to have function, reveal character, move plot.

So don’t over use subplots. Think about them carefully.

In an early attempt at a novel I really had too many entwining storylines. Now complex plots are fine, although they need to feel simple …. get that? Complex is interesting, but it must feel simple!  FEEL SIMPLE (know the feeling!)  If your reader needs a Study Guide  to work out plot and subplots,  and how one storyline connects to another, you probably have too many!  NO, you DO have too many!

Anyway, I am a sucker for complex, but in that novel the subplots took the reader out of the main story and were too big. So part of my editing was to focus the main plot, take the central thread and pluck off what was essentially a whole other story! I did in fact kill off two characters and lose the whole subplots around them. Not only did I not miss them, the story was better.

So do ponder on this … … there are so many possible subplots, you might just … er, lose the plot? The trick … make complex seem simple.

Fiction Clinic is tomorrow, I have room for one more 500 word piece if anyone wants to email it to writer@debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk

Happy Thursday!

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