Lost the plot?

Do you enjoy plotting? I don’t. Well, let me qualify that – I enjoy it at the beginning of the process when the germ of an idea that captivated me at the breakfast table progresses to a rough (and I mean rough) idea of where the novel is likely to go.  At that point I think: ‘Great. There’s a novel here.’

But somewhere around the end of the first quarter of actually writing the novel, the plot (such as it is) begins to expose its weaknesses and problems. That’s when I stop enjoying plotting.

But the show must go on and that’s when I start mind-mapping my creation, consigning the woefully inadequate ramblings of my brain to A4 in some vague attempt to see where I’m headed.mindmap

I usually have to do this four or five times during the writing of the first draft.

Some of you will be absolutely horrified at this approach. Val McDermid, I read recently, usually plots to the nth degree, knowing exactly where she’s headed with each novel. Except for the last one, I think, or it might have been the one before the last one, where she had no idea where she was going at all. And she was scared stiff.

Who can blame her?

But that’s the way it always seems to work with me; the characters dictate what their story is and where the plot is going. It’s a bit like walking through a dark forest with a weak flashlight that only shows you the path ahead for about ten paces. Beyond that is inky blackness. Not a spark of light.

Anything could be up ahead. Anything at all . . .

I think it makes it more fun. Except of course when you haven’t the foggiest what’s going to happen in the next chapter. That’s just plain scary. Usually, though, with a little TLC (see my previous post on this . . . :)), my creativity is revived and I eventually figure out where things are headed.

I reckon I’m in good company. John Fowles used to begin work with just the ‘ghost of an idea’. And that approach produced ‘The Magus’ and ‘The French Lieutenant’s woman’. Respect, Mr Fowles. Lots.

Not sure where you’re going with your plot? Embrace the mystery. Don’t freak out. The possibilities are endless; it’s up to you to feel your way forward. Use your instinct  – and particularly your imagination!

I’m including a (probably completely unfathomable) photo of one of my mind-map scrawlings so you can see what a tortured process I go through. I’ve got lots of these. Maybe I should include them as appendices in the next novel?

No, maybe not.

Happy plotting!