Do you need to have your entire plot worked out before starting to write?
If that were the case, I’d never have finished a novel. It’s a common misapprehension, though, and I think it’s one of the things that keep emerging writers from attempting longer pieces. Rest assured: you don’t have to know much beyond the bit you’re currently working on. One of the reasons I love writing fiction so much is that I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
There are all kinds of models for the idea novel plot: three-acts, six-acts, and so forth. How can you best take a structured approach while maintaining the element of surprise?
This is very important! Unexpected plot points are such joy for the reader, but they need to have a feeling of truth despite being counter-intuitive. And a stable structure is the thing that leaves readers thinking, what a great story. The key, I think, is to separate the two processes: creative and analytical. There are lots of tips and tricks for making the most of both halves of the process, but it comes down to understanding what kind of writer you are, and what kind of manuscript you’re writing.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see when it comes to plotting?
The big two are: a difficulty in identifying the beginning of the story; and a passive protagonist. It’s very common that the writer isn’t clear exactly where the story begins. When this happens, the beginning of the story might appear in chapter three, or chapter twelve, or not at all. The other common problem is a passive protagonist. You can have a fascinating character, in a swirl of terrific plot points, but if she isn’t doing anything and things are happening to her rather than as a result of her actions, it’s very difficult to generate narrative drive.
Toni Jordan is the author of five novels. The bestseller Addition was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Fall Girl was published internationally and has been optioned for film, and Nine Days was awarded Best Fiction at the Indie Awards. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts was shortlisted for the Voss Literary Prize 2017 and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018. Toni’s latest book is the literary mystery The Fragments.
The Unpredictable Plotter: Writing Fiction will take place at Writing NSW this Saturday 9 March, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here >