Good Reading : March 2011
MARCH 2011 ı goodreading 19 writer's life ally needed is plot development -- arc of the narrative, the structure impels the story forward through its sts and turns. It's the arc -- the chain vents linking one section to the next hat makes the novel leap off the page keeps the reader enthralled. And that's a major problem, because le creative writing courses and ssment services can help with the hnical issues of writing, few are able help develop the plots necessary for ook to become compelling. All too n, the tur ning points in the plot -- those glorious moments in a story ere the reader is suddenly transfixed ause something unexpected happens, ere the writer lays a false trail or a tle clue -- fail to be delivered. When a new author thinks up an ginative plot line for a novel (often ed on some real-life experiences), urgency writing l down pels the rk forward. when the onalised ails have been committed to the mputer's screen, it's rarely a novel ublishable for m. And that's often biggest problem for publishers and reason for most rejections: because author has failed to transfor m an ired idea into a full-scale work iction. A novel has to be more than a good a well written; it has to have an derlying rationale and truth-seeking philosophy that is portrayed in the big picture by entirely believable characters who are acting out a series of incidents underpinned by subplots that support and define the major theme. The timing of the novel has to be structured so that at the end of any chapter the reader doesn't want to close the book, but has to continue reading to find out what happens next. The voice of the nar rator -- either first person or omniscient third person -- has to be compelling and authoritative, but also like that of a friend who's there to walk beside the reader in the journey to the end. It might sound complicated, but these are techniques that can be learned. We can all tell jokes and make our friends laugh. But it's a different matter when we're standing alone on a stage in the centre of a spotlight with just a microphone in our hands, trying to keep a thousand people in the audience entertained. And it's no different with writing a novel. We might have a great idea for a story, but we need to know how to turn an idea into a 75000 word book that will live in the mind of a reader long after the end. Without such knowledge, all too many novels will peter out after the author has written 15 000 words and realised that there's nothing more to say. A friend recently approached me asking whether I could assist him with writing his first novel. He had a lot of thoughts going through his head and knew that he wanted to write a book, but he'd tried it several times during the year, and after 5--10 000 words he had come to the end of what he wanted to say. So we spent an after noon talking through his ideas. What he had was impressions, images and situations running through his mind, but no central story. There were no linkages, no translation of thoughts into a narrative form, and no arc to the story to propel it forward. He assured me that none of his ideas were good or complex enough to make into a novel, which demanded big ideas. So I asked him if he could simply write a novel about a man who wakes up early one mor ning, makes breakfast for his wife, goes out into the street, and works for the entire day meeting people. Then he goes to a pub, does a few more unimportant things, and retur ns home to fall exhausted into bed beside his wife. 'Of course not,' said my friend. 'Hmmm ... James Joyce managed it with one of the greatest novels of the last couple of hundred years ... I've just given you the plot of Ulysses.' Ideas don't make novels. What makes novels are ideas car ried by plot lines, subplots, dramatic story thr usts and believable and often quirky characters. Novels are also not just great writing. While 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...' is a staggeringly brilliant opening line, it's also direct, open and simple. Overcomplication and the use of arcane words doesn't make good writing. What makes writing truly compelling is excitement. And that's where plot comes in. So how do you create a great plot for a novel? Well, the first thing you have to do is to forget Hollywood. The huge Tom Cruise-style, multi- layered adventure movies -- with multiple plots surfacing and weaving in and out of the story -- might take years of corporate development. But a single novelist sitting in front of a blank screen doesn't have to replicate that in order to write a great book. So just what is the secret? Well, that's a whole other story ...