I know everyone has been eagerly wondering what the result of the manuscript assessment was. As I mentioned last time, I had a long wait. When the wait was over, my overwhelming thought was: oh yes, I thought so.

She liked my writing style. She thought it was accessible. She thought the characters were multi-dimensional and their relationships believable. All this is good.

She also thought at least a third of the plot was unnecessary, and that huge areas were missing. She said it was great that she cared about the characters and what was happening to them. But she sounded frustrated that she didn’t know more about why it was happening to them.

It is very similar to the feedback I first got on A Perilous MarginPlot, I have come to accept, is my Achilles heel.

Which sounds ridiculous, as it is a pretty fundamental thing for writing novels. That, I think, is the problem. For years I have thought of myself practising writing, not writing novels. But writing 13,000 well well-crafted sentences does not make a novel. It makes a whole bunch of pleasant sentences and a very frustrated reader.

It is easy for people who don’t read genre fiction to scoff about plot. If it’s not a thriller or a romance, does it even have a plot? Many books feel like simple, realistic stories about simple, realistic people. No serial killers, no longing gazes over candlelight. When a novel feels real it often feels plotless because it is so like our lives, and our lives certainly don’t have a plot. That is what the best writers do. It may be disguised among ordinary actions but if it’s not there at all then you really do just have a bunch of people who kind of like each other sitting around. It is painfully obvious, and it doesn’t get published.

So I am embarking on a new learning chapter. Since I can afford neither a degree in creative writing, nor a proper online writing course, I am doing the next best thing. Reading books about plot. I will teach myself, because whatever instinct or natural talent I may have clearly does not extend to understanding things like tension, or pacing, or narrative arcs. And if I’m going to write about a bunch of people sitting around, I’d like to at least know why they are sitting around in that particular spot on that particular day.

Words to live by

By Alison Theresa

Writer in progress. Australian in Birmingham. MA student at University of Birmingham. I write words and sometimes people publish them. I am working on my fourth (and fifth) novels.

4 replies on “Verdict”

Love the line about ‘lots of lovely sentences and a frustrated reader’. You’re being a bit harsh on yourself Alison but funny too.

On the question of plots, I think that writing about mundane lives (i.e. the non-crime fiction, non-romance, non-genre fiction) gains its power by finding the plot that no-one knows is there, that sits below the surface. That’s the alchemy of writing that uncovers the human longing that drives all our plots. The resolution of tensions or the failure to resolve tensions, the tenter-hooks of freedom versus attachment, the struggles to re-invent meaning when irony rules or to live without meaning.

I think you made A Perilous Margin work because you were very good at putting Andy into a struggle of self-realisation that was so powerful and compelling that it drew the stories of others into her quest and into new relationships and ways of being.

And then there’s the plots that drive us. Nelson Mandela sat around in a prison for 27 years. Plenty of plot there. But Nelson Mandela was no more tossed by the major currents of politics and history than we are. its just more obvious for him. We get washed up on beaches in Brighton or Depot for reasons only partly of our making. In A Perilous Margin, Andy was riding waves of feminism and gender politics and art theory in a gentrifying suburb of Sydney. Her personal quest was like her surfboard… (that sounds too neat. Maybe i stole that from someone. May you!)

Thanks for sharing Ali. Hope you don’t mind the rant!


I don’t mind the rant at all! Glad to hear A Perilous Margin felt plotful, I like to think of Andie on a surfboard of a personal quest!

‘the plot that no-one knows is there’ is just it – except unfortunately I have made it my job to know what’s there!

Making implicit things explicit but not obvious, finding what speaks to us but not using it to beat everyone over the head…so many nuances. Sometimes it is tempting to just write: she had a bad day and felt crummy for a while, and then she got over it.

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