Character-driven plot

I had a busy and productive two-week holiday recently. Sure there was some visiting of local purveyors of fine ales, and yes I finished and published ‘Song a song of Saturn’, but perhaps more importantly for long-term success, I ‘studied the craft’.  I read a couple of books by best-selling authors on how they viewed their success and took some lessons to heart. I also spent some time listening to podcasts in which successful self-published authors explained how, in their opinion, they’d become successful.

Two of the more interesting comments came from Stephen King and I’m sure he won’t mind me repeating them here. In case he does, I’d better give you a link to his book, ‘Stephen King On Writing‘. The first comment was about self-editing your work. As a young writer, he was given the advice that the second draft should be ten percent shorter than the first. ‘Cut your darlings’, he says, deliberately mis-quoting Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote “murder your darlings”   and I think he’s right. Previously, rather than cutting I had a tendency to put more words in! He makes the point that everything should drive the plot forward and anything that doesn’t should be banished from the page. Well, who am I to argue with the master of horror?

The second comment that caught my eye was about ‘The Plot’. Previously, I had the plot of most of my books scribbled down in notes before I started writing them. OK, sometimes the story wandered away from what I’d initially envisaged but generally, my first thoughts and scribbles eventually saw the light of day. Mr King seemed to be saying that he started with a situation and followed where it led. If it’s good enough for him, it’ll do for me. I started work on the next book–provisionally titled ‘Afterdeath‘–and began with a situation, and not a specific plot. The first four chapters–at one thousand words each shorter than my usual chapters–just developed the situation. At the end of that, I still had no idea of the real story, but the major components came to me in the shower one morning–or so I thought. Following lunch and conversation with daughter Pauline up in London, I felt that the book should be humorous and not a ‘shock-horror thriller’. My characters had other ideas, although at this stage of the proceedings they weren’t talking to me. After a further four chapters, a minor character appeared–I called her Ariadne, but two days later she tapped me on the shoulder and informed me in no uncertain terms that her name was Lili (short for something else but you’ll have to buy the book when it comes out to find out what it is short for). Discovering her real name opened up a world of possibilities–a world that I intend to explore. Lili changed the entire direction and character of the book, or so I thought. Reviewing what I’d previously written, I discovered that the two main characters-or perhaps I’d better call them the previously two main characters–had tried to tell me the same story as Lili, but being a stubborn author, I hadn’t been listening. So now I have an expanded cast of main characters but more importantly, I have an almost-plot. That’s right, I’m still not one hundred percent sure of where the story is going, although I now have a better idea. I’m going to continue to develop the situations and see where they lead me. Some of the characters have a sense of humour–well let’s face it, everybody has some sense of humour–but the plot will not be humour-driven, as it is in the Karno books. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m actually having fun writing this one, which hasn’t always been the case. Oh yes, learning to touch-type has speeded things up, even if I have to force myself to look at the screen and not the keyboard.

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