Fear of plot

It's going well so far

Some might say the greatest tool a writer has is originality. I sincerely hope not, because my inspiration for creating this blog was seeing that the brilliant Kat Sommers keeps a blog that documents her writing process as she’s working on a novel, and it struck me what a brilliant idea that was. So, with apologies to Kat for shamelessly imitating her, I shall be doing much the same thing here.

I’ve been working on this same idea for years now. Well, that might be going a bit far; I’ve certainly had the idea in my head for several years, but the actual amount of time spent actively working on it can barely even be measured in days. This year, for some reason, I decided it was time at long last to really make a concerted effort to get it written out, to determine once and for all if it’s fair to describe myself as a frustrated writer, or whether I’m just frustrated.

So far, I’ve not been doing too terribly. I’m definitely not writing as often as I would like, but I am at least writing, and that’s a vast improvement on my progress in previous years. I have a plot, I have chapters, I have characters, I have a vague idea of where everything is going, so on that level things are going well. Not everything is quite going to plan, but my previous attempts at writing books (largely restricted to National Novel Writing Month, but not entirely) have taught me that sometimes the best ideas are the ones that come wandering into your brain uninvited when you’re attempting to tell a completely different story, and display such total immovability that you end up having to write them whether you want to or not.

For the most part, this has been a problem with characters rather than plot – people keep wandering up and making me believe they’re interesting, and wanting to include them. They’re all fairly tertiary to the main plot, but I rather like the idea of having a big world for my novel, so I’m keen to write them. My concern at the moment is that I don’t really have a use for all of them; I’m almost writing far more than I need to just to give them all something to do. I’m only on chapter four of an extremely rough first draft, and already I suspect many of these people will not survive the edit, assuming I get that far. But for now I’m content to let them exist, because who knows how important they might turn out to be later?

This does feed into a wider problem, though; all the time I’m working hard to give these people something to do, I’m further delaying actually getting into the meat of my main plot. I’ve already spent over 10,000 on some pretty loquacious scene-setting, which is a terrible habit of mine. I took a playwriting course when I was at university, and one of the things my lecturer was (correctly) very keen to eliminate from my writing was a tendency to waffle on for pages when I could just be getting to the damn point already. As this blog entry demonstrates, whatever success he may have had was clearly temporary. But again, that’s what editing is for.

Anyway, to get back to the original point, I’m interested in this habit – not the overwriting, but the delayed gratification of the plot. This has happened to me before, when I’ve been trying to write other stories; I have this idea which I love, this plot which I think is genuinely great and strong and deserves to be told, and yet, when I sit down to write it, I find myself writing anything but. In his book No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty mentions other writers he’s spoken to with this problem, this sort of fear of ruining your wonderful idea by actually writing it. Certainly, I’ve found in my efforts so far that what tumbles into Pages isn’t nearly as eloquent as it sounded in my brain when I was sitting on the train or the loo or wherever inspiration struck, but is that playing into a wider fear? Am I concerned that if I actually try to write the plot I want to write, it’ll be clichéd, amateurish and clunky, and that will be the end of it? I think so, a little bit. I think there’s also an element of fear that once I’ve written it, what then? I’m going to have to find an ending, and I fear endings more than almost anything else when it comes to writing. I treat the ellipsis as a close friend because of the way it saves you having to really finish a thought…

But that’s part of the reason why I’m writing this blog as well – I want to force myself to examine behaviour like this, to Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, if you want to get all self-help about it. Whenever the doubt strikes, I remind myself of Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote that “the first draft of anything is shit”, and that this is the reason we have later drafts, and editors. So, essentially, I’ve really got to just get on with it. Just write enough that I have to get there whether I like it or not.

I think today was a good start in all of this. I’ve finally written the first proper scene of interaction between the two characters at the centre of the plot, and now I can build on that. Assuming all those lovely-but-annoying tertiary characters don’t start clamouring for attention again.

Total number of words written today: 1, 286
Current wordcount:
12, 374

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2 thoughts on “Fear of plot

  1. Kat Sommers says:

    Ooh Steve! So excited you’re writing about your book too. That book about plot sounds interesting; is it any good?

    I suffer from the same thing: I’m much more confident when it comes to writing character than plot. I figure I can rework the plot though. The idea of having a first draft that’s strong on plot but needs better character is much worse to me than a character-driven story that needs momentum. I kinda feel I could fix the former in a second draft, but not the latter. But hey, I guess I’ll find that out when I get there…

  2. It’s good – it’s geared more towards people taking part in NaNoWriMo, so a lot of it is about how to write a novel super-quick without really thinking about coherence or editing or things like that, but it’s quite useful in terms of giving you ideas of what to include and what to avoid, and tips to help you stay inspired when you’re flagging, and things like that. It’s also helpful in terms of explaining why it’s a good idea to switch off your “inner editor” as he calls it when writing a first draft, and just to keep writing so that you can sort it out later.

    I know what you mean, definitely, and I think I’d agree. If you’ve got good characters, then hopefully they can drive the plot along by themselves, whereas a good plot won’t necessary create good characterisation along the way. Though I’m clinging to the idea that pretty much everything is fixable in the edit if you’re willing to work hard, because that makes me feel better…

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