Monday, 27 July 2015

Losing the plot

Summer's here and the kids are off school which means there won't be much writing time for me for a while. Luckily I have just filled my writing tank up with a week at Ty Newydd in Wales where I've been doing a course in writing Women's Popular fiction with Julie Cohen and Rowan Coleman.

I'm about 20,000 words into my romantic novel, which is provisionally entitled Perhaps, and the course has really helped me to think about the plot, structure and narrative arc of the story. Julie Cohen is a self-confessed analytical planner and mistress of the colour-coded post-it note, which was really interesting to someone like me who tends to wing it slightly when I'm writing fiction (more in the style of Rowan). As a teacher of creative writing, I thought I knew quite a lot about plot and structure but it turns out I still had much to learn.

At the same time as being the proponent of detailed planning, Julie was also reassuringly an advocate of writing what she terms, "the shitty first draft". Once you have something on the page, you have something to work with, where, if you're too afraid of putting a wrong word on the screen, you're sentencing yourself to never getting off the starting blocks.

Meanwhile, I've been quiet on here for a while because I've been dealing with an unexpected plot twist in my own life, where the hero of my story inconveniently went off piste. As a romantic and a writer, I often realise that I have a bit of a problem with confusing fiction and real life and, as he broke my heart, I did actually say to him , "but you're the ending to the my novel!" As it turned out, he was just a plot twist and one of the other things we discussed on the course was the fact that "fiction is more plausible than real life". We like reading popular fiction because it satisfies our need for order and sense, where our own lives can be more chaotic.

I didn't get much writing done while I was away because the course was quite intense and I was still recovering from 'end of termitis' but I did write a little ditty encapsulating what I've learned about plot and, though it was trite, it helped me to move on to the next chapter of my life. It amused the course participants so maybe it will amuse someone else:

I thought you were the happy ever after
The resolution of all the threads
You filled my life with love and laughter
I believed all the wonderful things you said.
But now I've had the mid-point reversal*,
I've looked in the mirror and can't go back.
Things will get better, they can't get worse, I'll
Keep moving forwards in spite of your lack.
Just when I thought it was all going smoothly
You pulled the rug** out from under my feet
Left in the dark*** where nothing could soothe me
And things were as bad as bad can be.           
But now you're a sub-plot, a plot-twist, a herring
And there will be other fish in the sea
Just as handsome, as loving, as caring
Time to move on into act three***.
It wasn't the ending, there's no husband or wife
But the heroine will keep striving for a better life.

Oh, and another thing that Julie advocates is champagne, when you've finished the shitty first draft and when you've published the final book (and at lots of stages in between). In the last few weeks I've finished the first draft of a picture book for the Ehlers Danlos society about a disco-dancing zebra, and my book, Archie Nolan: Family Detective is out in a week or so.

Time to get out the bubbly! I'll need it with 5 more weeks of schools holidays to get through.

* the point at which the heroine realises she's in too deep to turn back
** the rug-pulling moment: when things seem to be going well and then suddenly it all goes wrong. Aargh!
*** the heroine's darkest hour (following the rug-pulling moment)
**** Act 3 - the third act of the three act structure - where things will be resolved