How big is a hole?

Digging ManFor the past two months I have been working rather feverishly on the basic plot of my novel. After the manuscript assessment, I started reading about plot and tried to use what I was learning to help guide my revisions. It turns out that an awful lot has been written about plot.

I read two books and reworked the whole thing, cutting out more than half of what I had and adding and adding and adding more back in. I read through the whole thing the other week, start to finish. It was okay. I had hoped for it to be a near-final draft but clearly it isn’t, because I want it to be more than okay! Rather than a couple of months of editing left, I think it will take me into winter again.

The first half seemed good but then something happened. It drifted and I couldn’t understand why. So I’ve read more and I’ve written lists and I’ve paid much closer attention to novels that I’m reading to understand how they do it. Why do we care about people who don’t exist? Why do we stop caring?

The characters were lost in plot holes because I didn’t want that part of the plot to matter, or because I hadn’t thought of why it should matter. I hoped it wasn’t obvious but of course it was. If I’m treating parts that matter like they don’t, it is very easy to start seeing the whole thing as something that doesn’t matter.

It is back to the drawing board with my shovel. I will fill in those plot holes and god damn it, it will be better than okay when I’m finished with it.

Verdict

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.

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Words to live by