Plot Luck

This week, when not enjoying the company of Rose and Si (a lovely long weekend) or preparing the house for timewasters prospective purchasers (Octogenarian couple seeking small bungalow and new friends. One man and his dog having a nosey. Woman looking for small holding.) I’ve been thinking mainly about plot.

Now plotting is something that scares the bejesus out of me. It scares the bejesus out of a lot of people and there are folks who charge good money to tell you how to overcome your fears. I once attended Robert McKee’s Story seminar. I had a great time and learned more than I needed to about Roland (Fine Young Cannibals) Gift’s socks, because he kept slipping his shoes off, and a lot about what not to do when Robert McKee is talking, but if you buy Robert McKee’s book ‘Story’ it’ll give you the nuts and bolts about plotting without the socks and at a fraction of the price. For a simple explanation you could do a lot worse than pop over to The Blood Red Pencil and read Maryann Miller’s great post, Writing a
Synopsis Doesn’t Have to Kill You

as I did the other night when I was freaking out at the sight of blank spreadsheet optimistically entitled ‘MDM: Plot Analysis’. Having read Maryann’s post I was able to start filling in the gaps and felt back on track. There’s a lot of useful information over at Blood Red Pencil – Helen Ginger’s post Stumbling Blocks is definitely worth a read too.

The key to good plotting is knowing your characters really well. Some writers like to get to know their characters as they write and don’t do much in the way of forward planning. I like to have a bit of a path laid out before I begin. I think that’s to do with the way my characters arrive: very often a scene will come to me that’s so vivid I feel as if I’m an invisible bystander. Fighting the Tide, for example, started with an image of a young woman stepping out on to a balcony on a night full of stars and gazing across at a string of boats bobbing on the inky water below her. That was the easy part! The hard part was finding out who the woman was and discovering her story.

In the past I’ve got carried away at this stage and written myself out at about 20,000 words. Experience has taught me that it’s better to put the brakes on and do some navigation right at the beginning so that I have some waypoints to steer towards - even if the course changes in the writing. Last week I showed you the opening scenes I wrote after getting the first glimpse of Coralie, one of the female leads of Make, Do and Mend. This week introduces Alys, as I first saw her. It’s eight months after the wedding Coralie attended in the first chapter and Alys, the mother of the bride, is not in a happy place...

Chapter Two.
Things to do in February.

Alys Bowen tucked her white-blonde hair behind her ears as she crouched down in the shade of the stone wall to look at her favourite snowdrops. The dainty galanthus nivalis with its sweet honey scent was a welcome friend returned after a long absence. The pretty flowers with their trim green markings seemed to her to herald the end of winter. And it had been a long winter at Penmorfa with short days chased away by bitter winds and deep, silent nights.

Alys almost got up to fetch Huw. He’d be in the kitchen, just a few dozen yards away from her where he’d be making toast and giving the cats a gentle boot out the way when they refused to let him get to the Aga. The kettle would be whistling softly to itself with the teapot set to warm and a couple of blue and cream glazed pottery mugs waiting. At least that’s how it used to be. Alys had to place her hands on the wet grass to steady herself as the spasm of pain tore through her body and rocked her forwards. She took a deep breath as her hair swung down over her face and her eyes pricked with tears.

© Christine Stovell

Poor Alys! Now all I’ve got to do is find out what’s making her so unhappy.

Painting is 'Black, White, Grey' by Tom Tomos


Flowerpot said…
Love the picture and what a great scene. I want to know more now!! I agree about plotting - I like ot know where I'm going and why and how. But everyone's different, I know!
Frances said…
Chris, how can you leave us hanging like that! You've got me all drawn into that scene and beginning to connect with the characters, and then ....

It's quite interesting to learn about what might go on in a writer's mind. I'm looking forward to learning more as you go along.

Best wishes.
Elizabethd said…
Oh poor Alys, what have you done to her?!
Pondside said…
Back to the desk to write some more, Chris - we too need to know what's makig Alys so sad.
Is Huw dead or run off with a floosie? Drooling here!
Cait O'Connor said…
It's sounding good Chris.
And thanks for those links.
ChrisH said…
Thanks FP. Interesting that we share the same approach to plotting.

Frances, hello, I'd better keep working then!

Elizabethd, well, I have a bit of an idea...

Pondside, yes it's Apply Bum to Seat time!

SBS, all will be revealed in due course (I hope!).

Cait, thanks. I'm glad the links were helpful.
Brown Dog said…
Oooh, gosh - how fantastic to have a glimpse into your plotting process. Plotting is something I've never got the hang of - as you say, writing the odd disconnected scene is easy, but making it all hang together and make sense needs patience and perseverence. Love the way MDM is developing and can't wait to find out what is causing Alys's sudden spasm of pain (gorgeous names, by the way - can picture them all). More, please, more.
Lane said…
What a crystal clear scene with Alys. I love it. Is she ill? Is Huw really still alive? Oooh I want to know where this is going!

I have 'plot fail' big time. I know my characters well enough (I think) but creating tension, weaving strands, tieing(sp?) up the threads ... soooo hard.

Off to check your links asap!

Hope you get some serious viewers soon. And a whopping offer:-)
Pipany said…
Yep, reckon he's either dead, dying or run off, though maybe that's too obvious? Perhaps she's dying and hasn't told him? Or maybe he 'came out'? Oh, I could get to like this!! Hurry up and let us know Chris xx
Preseli Mags said…
Goodee! Lots of lovely links to follow! Fascinating to read how you plot. I'm a real 'bull at a gate' writer. I have a glimmer of an idea, I usually know the ending and bits in the middle, so I just jump right on in and charge...
And I enjoyed the scene - until it stopped! Can't wait to read more.
PS: I like the cover for FTT. That's exactly the sort of thing I'd pick up if I saw it in a bookshop.
ChrisH said…
Brown Dog, thanks for being so encouraging. I've had a good plotting day today - I think it's about hanging on in there too!

Lane, thanks... have you tried 'Doing Something Else' for a while - just to get a bit of distance? Sounds as if you are a bit too close and need a bit of distance then, I'm sure, you'll be ablet to tie it all up.

Pip... well, I know now!

Mags, that's exactly the kind of approach I'd like to be able to take! Interesting how it varies from writer to writer. The FTT mock-up cover was made by lovely Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf. GG spent ages freezing on the beach at Poppit in April whilst Stepson Two organized and shot the pictures. They were both perished by the time they'd finished and I'm very grateful for all their hard work
gaelikaa said…
I know that feeling you describe when your characters take on a life of their own and even YOU don't know what's going to happen next. Your post was really good. I enjoyed it so much. And thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.
Debs said…
You're writing is so good, I loved reading that.

I also like to have a notion of where I'm going with the book, although it tends to take itself on to places I hadn't anticipated occasionally.
Calico Kate said…
Now this was an interesting post to read by a baby wannabe writer.
Am going for a one-2-one chap next week about mine own scribblings - very excited person here!
Loved the second chapter. More please.
ChrisH said…
gaelikka,I'm glad you enjoyed the post - I'll be popping over.

Debs, thank you - that means a lot (especially given the amount of reading you do!). Sounds as if we share a similar approach to plotting.

Kate, that sounds interesting - is this an expert or a writing buddy?
Fennie said…
Maybe she's sat on a thistle!

Sorry couldn't resist the facetious comment.
ChrisH said…
Go and stand in the naughty corner, Fennie.
Cottage Garden said…
What a cliff-hanger - I can't wait for the next instalment - how is your plotting coming along by the way?
With regards to the two rejections in your previous posting - are they mad?!! They obviously don't recognise true genius when its there in front of them, in black and white...!
ChrisH said…
Jeanne, you are making me blush!
Pat Posner said…
More please!

Exmoorjane said…
Oh God, Chris - I so so so need to know how to plot. I couldn't agree more - I have about four novels stuck at 20K words as just ran out of steam. At Arvon they kept saying you shouldn't plot but the plot should rise (mythically) out of your characters but I need more structure. Hmm, off to follow your links now.

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