Plots – and loose ends

From last week’s blog I have been looking at my words and phrases trying to inject more interest into the writing and make it jump further off the page. As I was doing this, I realised that it is easy to hide inside the editing and checking – rather than actually progress with the storyline. Needless to say my intended word count has not kept track. Tying all of my plot bits together seems like a nightmare. I both envy and admire those authors who have successfully written longer novels and tied together all the loose ends. I would like to become one of them.

My children’s novel should end up with about forty thousand words. I have two main characters, who interact with about six or seven others, then the unidentifiable walk-ons. Not a huge cast, you may think. But now and again I keep forgetting about one or two of them, especially if they are not at the front of the stage – the dog, for instance: a character only in the sense that he provides a backdrop to the activities of my two main ones. Yet, if I am still thinking three-dimensionally, and creating atmosphere, that dog should be regularly alluded to.

Short story writers don’t have this problem of balancing characters – as their characters are (or should be) far fewer in number. Also the settings and timespans for short story plots are simpler. Most short stories feature a mere snap shot in time – as opposed to novels.

However, I have tried to crack this dilemma. I am about halfway through my novel and have written for each chapter a mini breakdown of each scene, with key events noted. At the end of each chapter I go back to this summary and check that I have included each bit, even ticking each one. Somehow those green ticks that appear when I type the word ‘done’ are a comfort and an inspiration. I can see progress through my little green ticks.

I also have a file for ‘second draft’ ideas – as these annoying thoughts often zoom into my brain, without permission, at an alarming rate, as I am writing. What if this….? Or what if that….? What have you done about…? Sometimes these ideas or reminders suggest improvements – so I don’t want to ignore them completely. But what to do with them? They may have legs, or not, as writers often say. I have set up a table into which newer ideas for each chapter are noted as they arrive. I try not to think about these ideas too much, as they have the power to throw me off track with my plot. I may or may not use them – but I’ll ignore them until the next draft.

I have also devised an ‘escalation’ diagram to show how my plot is ‘thickening’ (yes, I know – it’s a cliche). I keep reminding myself of the ideal plot shape – the gradual deepening and intensifying of the problems thrown at the main character – that diagonal line on a virtual graph that represents the uphill struggle of the main character – before the eventual resolution. So I keep asking questions. What is driving my characters? How are the main characters’ problems getting worse? How are they fighting back?

Those who have read my blogs before know that I am evolving from a non-fiction to a fiction writer – and struggling with this process. Plots do not feature in non-fiction. Chapters do not have to follow on from each other, or refer backwards. Keeping track is much easier, in my view. Holding on to the loose ends in fiction is more problematic. I salute novelists.

I have just finished reading a huge novel by Ken Follett (Winter of the World) about the 2nd World War, part of his Century Trilogy. Awesome! Length: 912 pages, about 39 lines per page, about 10 words per line – about 355,680 words in total. What an achievement. My own novel for older, middle grade children will end up about a mere ninth of Follett’s epic.

So, I need to get on with it. Head down, words on the page! And hold on to my loose ends.

« Back to Blog