Plots Are For Other People

For me, reading crime fiction is an addiction. As they go it’s not an unhealthy one. There are plenty of other addicts out there, all having a perfectly cheerful time talking about serial killers, vengeance and blackmail. But, as I’ve said before, I shouldn’t try to write it. Because I always give up.

crime scene.jpg

Now, it’s fine to have abandoned books. Show me a writer who doesn’t have a manuscript slung in a bottom drawer. You might flick the title page over and start reading and think, ‘Not bad. Not bad. I’ll do something with it one day.’ Or you might think: ‘How on earth could I have written that?’ If you howl the latter response it probably means you’ve gained in skill since you wrote it which is something to be celebrated.

Very recently, I had an idea for a crime novel. It wasn’t welcome because I was working on something else. I tried it ignore it. Then, fatally, I was out walking and the opening lines came to me so I bought a notebook. (That’s another addiction.) I started writing. The way you do.

I wrote quite a lot. Well, it was easy enough, because it was all plot. I won’t claim they were all the right words in the right order, but the scenes followed each other, interleaved, played games with suppression and revelation and twists, the way crime novels do. They even – dare I say it – nodded at suspense, which is the one thing I thought I couldn’t do. Each time I sat down to write, I’d reread what I’d written in the session before, thought ‘What happens next?’ and was off again.

It was much, much easier than the other book I was working on. The one I’m supposed to write which is for readers of Ready to Love. So I stopped writing the crime novel.

Now, clearly, I don’t consider it any great loss to the genre. I joke when I say it was easy, because it wasn’t, on the whole. I worked hard. The thing is, I obviously didn’t care enough about it, which is fatal for any creative work. Has that ever happened to you?

‘Write the book you want to read,’ we’re told, but if we read widely, voraciously, across genres, maybe that should be, ‘Write the book you want to read that only you can write.’ To me, that makes the business a lot more pertinent and urgent and necessary.

I missed my plot, however – admiring the posts and joints, the solid foundations, and the roof that was coming along nicely. But plots are for other people, I decided. Time to go back to the treacly mess that was the other book, growing in all directions, organically, I suppose.


Not this sort of plot, obviously …

Then I thought: why don’t I just give it a plot? Not the same plot as the crime novel, obviously, but a plot all the same. Could I do it? I know some writers plot everything in advance, sometimes to the finest detail, before they start writing in earnest. But that’s not me. Aren’t I one of those plotless people who allow the everyday events to steer the action in a linear direction – towards something like a marriage, or a divorce, or a death, or a birth. Or could I play God, as it were, snap my fingers and overturn the world as the characters know it, and the change it again just when they think they’ve got the measure of their altered circumstances?

So that’s what I’m doing. It means being ruthless. It means giving characters a dressing down, a demotion, in some cases. Does that mean ‘plot’ tends to constitute misfortune happening to characters? Is it all about conflict? Surely you can put good things in too …

I’m finding out. What have you discovered about your own writing lately? Or are you just happily plotting?

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