The e-mails are flying thick and fast. Initially gentle message headers like ‘Prezzie?’ Or ‘Anything you’d like?’ have now evolved into shouty ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR XMAS?’, as we all leave it to the last minute as usual.
What I really want for Christmas is a plot.
I don’t mean the kind you can build a shed and grow cabbages on, although that would be nice too. I mean a plot for my story.
Or rather, not for my story, because if it hasn’t got a plot then it isn’t story yet, is it. It’s a… a situation. A potential. A seed. A torment. A promise.
This… situation (let’s go with that word) I’ve come up with is great. Everyone who knows about it loves it. It’s funny and sad, it’s gothic, it’s inventive, it’s original. I can tell you how marvellous it is without feeling like an arrogant smug git, because however funny and inventive and bla bla bla it may be, without a plot, it’s actually – nothing.
I’ve never had this problem before. All my books so far have started the same way, with a situation, but as it developed in my imagination the plot came too, as intrinsic as bones under the skin, as the trunk growing branches, sprouting leaves. I wouldn’t say that any of my books have tidy plots, because I like loose ends and suggestions of characters and events continuing beyond the book pages. I definitely wouldn’t say plot is one of my strong points as a writer. But I have always had a sense of a framework and a narrative moving things along, giving shape and purpose and sense. Making a story.
Not with this new situation. I can’t make anything happen. It won’t budge, it won’t grow, it won’t turn into a narrative that can be brought to resolution.
How do you kick-start a plot, people? I’ve been visiting vaguely relevant places, going for walks (when I get my best thinking done), collecting snippets of related information, pictures, articles from newspapers. I’ve been being distracted by all the other unrelated things in the newspapers and on my walks; I see the homeless people, the Christmas decorations, the payday loan ads, the sunsets; I read about dead children and how to make trifle and missile strikes. I can’t make sense of any of this. I can’t find a plot or a resolution.
You see what I’m doing here, of course. I’m turning my situation into a metaphor. I can’t make a story out of life, with all its awfulness and beauty. So why on earth should I be able to force a plot onto a potential book idea, so that it makes sense?
Except that’s what books are for, isn’t it? We need stories to make sense of who we are and what we do and why we do it. We can use them to escape, and we can use them to engage. To justify appalling behaviour, but also to nudge us towards behaving better.
Oh, here’s another e-mail in. ‘LAST CHANCE, OR YOU WON’T GET ANYTHING!!!’ People are getting desperate.
I’ll send this blog post in reply, I guess. Maybe I’ll get a flat-pack shed and a packet of cabbage seeds for Christmas. Maybe I’ll be able to make a plot out of them.