I have a guilty secret. I’m not sure I know how to plot. Oh yes, I know all about peaks and troughs, cliffhangers, release of tension, resolution. In my day job as an editor, I liaise with writers about how to negotiate all of these. But when it comes to my own writing? I know there are books you can buy on plotting and graphs you can draw. I meet people who talk in low, reverent tones about the ‘three act structure’. I know all the theory. I know, I know, I know! And yet, I don’t. I struggle to storyline a manuscript before I begin writing. I enjoy the ‘eureka!’ moments of hitting on a solution whilst cleaning my teeth, the slow development of an idea from rough outline to sharply focussed manuscript. But the fact still remains that I have two unanswered questions in my life: When will I feel like a grown-up? and Will I ever know how to plot?
We all know the fear of a publishers’ party – surrounded by other, more glamorous creatures who brim with confidence, beauty and the satisfaction of a successful career. I hover on the outskirts, wondering if these people… Well. Where did they buy their accessories and do they know how to plot?
I tell myself I should stop worrying; that plotting is a process, just like all the other processes I don’t analyse. Characterisation, setting, narrative tone, word counts... And yet it all comes back to plot, doesn’t it? If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.
I’ve started to see plot as a question. The constant question: Why? Every time I hit a stumbling point I hear a voice in my head. ‘Why?’ It’s a really good test of how to move forward. If I find myself saying, in manner of harassed parent, ‘Because I said so!’ – something is wrong. Seriously wrong. There’s no room for harassed parents when it comes to plotting. Plot is logic. Quick logic. It’s getting from A to B to C in the most interesting but logical way possible. I’m sure it’s lots of other things, too, but I’m still learning. I know it’s about keeping readers with me and I know that it’s probably not about them pausing and asking, ‘Erm. Why?’
Perhaps when I discover the secret to plotting, I’ll finally feel like a grown-up. And then I might stop taking silly pictures of myself.
Any other guilty secrets out there? Or advice about plotting?
Visit my website at www.karen-ball.com.