Having had an excessively liquid Christmas and New Year accompanied by a host of offhand comments to relatives that I didn’t want to make (or see), I finally decided to sit down and continue with the novel.
I must state at this point that I started it well before November as I hadn’t a clue about the great November writing exercise (I can’t, for the life of me, remember the name of it, was it NoMoBlo or is that a Freudian slip from one of my characters?). Whatever the case, I didn’t complete anything in the prescribed month, apart from a couple of fantastic books (which will be reviewed at a later date once the word blockage has been sorted).
I don’t know if it is just me, but rushing through things is just not my way.
Writing, at least writing something meaningful, is a direct result of reading and reflection, as you all will know, and something I tell my students day in and day out.
Reflection takes time. The words have to seep into your being and be inwardly digested by your mind.
Reading takes even longer, so when I discovered that there was a writing month, I reflected. After a week’s reflection, I found that the task had become more onerous, for now there were three weeks left to write the prescribed 50k words and reality set in – that is to say, it got the better of me . I had already written about 15k so I decided to continue at my own, languid, almost comatose, pace rather than rush through it.
Call it a rite of passage: being a writer is as important as the act of writing itself. I often compare writing a novel to a river… a trickle, then the rush of a torrent followed by a slow meandering build-up for the gushing finale into the sea (with the odd delta, here and there, at the mouth of the river just to make things more exciting).
Now, to come to the point, here are my top three tips when writing and plotting your book:
1. Remember, it is not a sprint but a Marathon
Writing quickly because you have a story that has welled up inside you is fantastic and something I would advise you to get out of your system as soon as possible. If you can do it then hats off to you. For most of the rest of us, it is a marathon.
The Marathon begins with an idea that develops into the Plot. Once you have this off to a pat, you can continue at a sprint, or a more leisurely pace. The main thing to remember is that you have to keep the end in sight at all times, otherwise, it will lie in your desk drawer and you will be afraid to open that drawer initially. This will develop into a hatred for the desk and so on. Continue with it. Slowly, quickly, or somewhere in between – write, even on days when you hate it.
It took James Joyce seven years to complete Ulysses, so taking your time is not always a bad thing.
2. The Three reasons a story is told (and read)
Storytelling is mankind’s earliest way of relating events whether real or fiction… we all know the history of that. However, do we know what the reader wants? In my opinion, a reader wants you to entertain them (the First reason).
Following swiftly on from mankind’s need for shelter, food and warmth, stories have been our only form of entertainment for millennia. The Second Reason is normally for the reader to escape from their existence into a world created by you, the author, and to let their imagination wander through your other world. Their own lives are forgotten (especially if you have penned a yarn that sucks them in) and they are offered a temporary respite from the daily grind.
The Third reason is simple: a greater understanding of things around us: for it is through fiction and the author’s imagination do we get to grips with things that are around us but we were unaware of. The author’s words are like a drug fuelling our imagination…firing up that side of our brain to imagine wonderful worlds and stories and all that within our own head.
3. Classical Plotting and the Eight Point Arc – works out of the can!
This works every time.
It is a tried and tested method and most people adhere to the Eight Point Arc in some way, shape or form… I have read book after book and plotted them (retrogressively) using this method. Works out of the can, so if you are stuck for a plot but have the story then try using this!
The Stasis – where you begin the story… think of it as Grimm’s “once upon a time” moment. It can be as long or as short as you want. Imagine Tolkien’s The Hobbit and descriptions of the Shire in the beginning.
The Trigger – something happens that is out of the hands of the main character (s). This is the first time characters begin to be revealed. It can be a momentous occasion, or a realisation that dawns on them later in the novel. Okay, so if we use The Hobbit again, for illustration purposes only, the moment when Gandalf walks in and life changes for our little furry-footed friend could be called a trigger.
The Quest – often generated by the Trigger. This makes the character get off their arse (“ass” for our cousins across the pond) and do something about the previous stage. Good, or bad, the Quest makes us read a little longer to see what the hell the character is going to do (remember, readers turning pages is the most important thing you can achieve).
The Surprise – Two key words to remember here… Plausability and Unexpectedness. This is the phase in a book where your characters get to grips with the Quest. Plausability is something that you set the boundaries of, take The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for instance. The novel within the novel has fantastic (andI mean that both in the sense of good as well as sci-fi) moments where everything is plausible as well as being wholly unexpected. Choose a book of your own and try it!
The Choice – The moment where your main character has to make a choice that defines the rest of the book. Good vs. evil, more vs. less are the simple choices, to love or not and so on. The list is as long as your imagination is boundary-less and as important as the next page of your book.
The Climax – The result of the previous arc, this makes the character enter into that choice, whatever it is. Here neither length nor excitement matter… what matters most is that the reader must know that it is a Climax of sorts. By no means the end of the book, but an important part that signals the beginning of the end.
The Aristotleian Reversal – he made it famous so why not use his name for it? This is what changes a story from “and then this happened and then that happened” to “and then this happened and suddenly he changed his mind and what we expected to happen didn’t happen”. Just make sure not to simplify this too much as your readers are intelligent people (children even more so) and will certainly put the book down if the whole reversal sounds too simplified and put there just for the hell of it – laziness here is your worst enemy.
The Resolution – This ends the book, think about this for a moment, and it is the point from where the second book can start. The characters are back in Stasis-mode after a tumultuous journey where they have learned something (or not) and are ready for a new quest (this could range from parenthood after a love affair, starting again, going off on another adventure or coming to terms with their sexuality… again your imagination is the only boundary).
I hope this has been helpful. I would be delighted to hear any stories or comments about how you plot your book so feel free to let me learn from you as well.
And, with that, I bid you adieu.