From my posts on this topic, you’ve probably realised that I’m a plotter, but that’s not the way every writer creates. And as I keep saying there is no right or wrong way to write – it’s what works for you.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome Kate Forsyth, the author of 23 wonderful books. She’s going to tell us what she thinks about plotting.
TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT – THAT IS THE QUESTION with Kate Forsyth
To me, there are two parts of writing. There’s the wonderful enchantment that overcomes me sometimes, when words tumble through my head faster than I can write, when every word rings true as soon as I catch it in my net. And then there’s the hard slog of writing when every word is dug out of obstinate rock.
To me, good writing seems so effortless, it is as if the reader was making it up as they go along, as if every word and every happening in the story is inevitable. I never want to be seen striving for effect – I want the architectural girders of the story to be hidden. E.M. Forster, one of my favourite writers, says a writer should be like God – ever present and yet invisible. However, to write that well is hard.
It is all too easy to lose your way, which is why having a plan of what you are writing can help you be a more focused and effective writer.
I always tell my writing students:
- To write without a plan is like going on a journey without a map
- Never start a novel with a blank page!
So I plan the novel out before I start writing – I fill pages of my notebook with jotted ideas, questions, possible adventures, character sketches, maps, and drawings. I sketch out a plot line, with key scenes, obstacles, and revelations , before I write a single word. Often there are large gaps – places where I have only a question mark. I’m happy to have these gaps – its often where the most marvellous discoveries are made.
For example, in ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’, I knew I wanted my heroes to set out on a perilous quest to rescue a wildkin princess from a crystal tower. That line, that image, was the very first seed of the book. I wrote up a plan, I assembled my cast of characters, I developed their personalities – all the while thinking, ‘How?’ How will my heroes rescue the princess in the tower?
I began to write the novel, I wrote the first few chapters, but still I had no answer. Many of my novels are about rescuing someone from a tower or dungeon (maybe this is a result of spending years in hospital as a child, staring out the window and daydreaming). I’ve had characters climb high walls, I’ve had characters flying winged horses to the rescue, I’ve had characters spin a rope from a strand of silk.
I wanted to do something different. I wanted whatever it was to have some deeper, symbolic meaning in the book, a kind of thematic structure.
But I could not think what. So one morning I am walking in the dawn (I always walk when trying to solve a problem), thinking to myself, ‘How? How do they rescue her? How?’
A raven took to the air, startling me, and one long, black feather fell from its wing right in front of me. I bent and picked up the feather, and thought, ‘a cloak of feathers. Perhaps it could be a cloak of feathers that was damaged in the past and must be mended? Perhaps they need to find seven feathers? Each with its own symbolic meaning that would relate to the action of the book. A feather from a raven, symbol of death and wisdom. A feather from an eagle, symbol of majesty and power. A nightingale feather, symbol of love …’
I walked faster and faster, my head on fire with ideas, and by the time I got home, I had the entire plot of the book worked out. This kind of serendipitous discovery has happened in every single book I’ve written.
I’ve learnt to trust that, no matter the problem in the plot or the story, the answer will come. All I need to do is work and write and daydream, and let it happen.
When it does happen, it raises all the hairs on my arm, it makes me catch my breath … yet it cannot be forced. It’s like a gift from the universe, and all you can do is be grateful for it.
Thanks so much for visiting, Kate. So wonderful to hear your valuable insights. I too, am a ‘walker’. In fact, I think my dog could very well be one of the most ‘walked dogs’ in Australia – not that she’s complaining. I find walking is so great for free my mind from the clutter of other distracting thoughts and letting the answers to my plot dilemmas come.
Happy writing and plotting everyone.
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