Saturday, 2 July 2011

What Works For You Catherine Johnson

I have just finished a bit of teaching I do with adults on a general writing course. It's a nice easy job, everyone's keen and I only do half the sessions, including the one on plot. I know that a lot of those new writers hope that I will impart a magic formula that will make writing a novel a matter of simple, bite size, steps, .

Of course, sadly I don’t. If it was that easy we’d all be doing it, and rewrites would become distant memories.

I know some of us use plot wheels, others do mounds of planning and have charts and post it notes stuck onto the walls of our writing sheds like sort of inverse advent calendar windows.

This is what I do:

I started off in film, but my education was mostly about abstract films – an hour and a half of a leaf going in and out of focus for example. Although I do remember the best class ever, a marvellous editor from Zagreb, talking us through Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which is still one of my all time favourite films.

So, when I started writing, structure was always the scariest thing. I just dived into stories, hoping I would work it all out by the time I got to the end. And I still do that a little, (or a lot sometimes) but now I use – a loose – three act structure – and beat sheet to make sure enough things are happening and that my plot is thickening up nicely.

In fact, I am knee deep in rewrites at the moment and although I’m more than happy with my characters and situation, there’s a definite sag after the end of Act One.

So I’m stepping back and allowing my two leads to enjoy themselves a bit after the upheavals of Act One, before they have to get back to the roller coaster of the story.

It all sounds so easy when you put it like that, as do all the other structural recipes. It’s the putting those recipes into practice that’s hard.

Good luck with all the stories,



Stroppy Author said...

If only there were an easy formula.... but then again, it wouldn't be interesting if there was! It makes it hard to teach, though, doesn't it? 'Do what works for you' doesn't sound like it is worth paying for.

Penny Dolan said...

Think the worst is when you - not your plot - are hovering between the two approaches, so neither is working!

Hope your leads have fun for you!

Leila said...

I also use a three act structure. Nowadays I think my plots seem to fall into them fairly neatly - though there's always room for inner structures and outer movementss and putting Act 3 first, and so on. I love structure in fact! :) Much fun.