Losing the Plot (and it all being okay…)

Me and my husband at Cape Reinga, New Zealand a few years ago. We're not lost exactly... but the photo seems to work...

Me and my husband at Cape Reinga, New Zealand a few years ago. We weren’t lost exactly… but the photo seems to work…

Last week I went to the first session of the ‘Start That Novel’ writing class. It’s run by Greenacre Writers, a lovely and active group of writers based in North London. Our first class was led by Josie O’ Pearse, a successful author of two and soon to be three novels, and focused on plot. I thought it might be useful to share a few of the main points from the evening. I gained a huge amount from Josie’s workshop, and hope you’ll find the thoughts interesting too.

What’s in a Name?

Josie started us off with a quick warm up where we had to explain how we were given our names. I don’t have a particularly interesting story around mine – my parents liked the name Alice! There were, however some wonderful stories around the room about how names were given, and it really made me think about how much easier it is to remember someone’s name when you know the story behind it. It’s always worth thinking about our character’s names and why we’ve chosen them, and where relevant weave that into the story too.

Next, we talked about plot and did various excercises around this. One thing that really jumped out at me was the very stark difference between a plot and a plan. I think I’d previously seen them as one in the same… Josie explained to us, using the words of writer, Andre Jute that the plot is ‘merely a sequence of events selected to convey the message of your story.’ So, that would mean ‘losing the plot’ is, in a sense, losing the meaning of what we want our story to say.

And, we certainly don’t want to lose the plot, don’t we? Josie told us that writers Ernest Hemingway and John Braine shared at least one thing in common in that they always left deciding on the plot of their novels until after they’d completed the first draft. My first question was, but how can I write a novel, if I don’t know the plot? But, here is where the difference between plot and plan comes in – we can know the setting, the characters and what we want to happen in our novel before we start writing it – that’s the plan. But, we can also leave deciding on the message behind what we want to say until after the first draft is written, then alter the sequence of events accordingly – that’s the plot.

As a group we concluded that this new knowledge enables us to start our novels with a lot more freedom, because if we feel like we’re losing the plot… it doesn’t really matter so very much. And, as getting lost and therefore stuck are such common issues with writing a first novel – this information is really very useful!

Small Successes

In other news, I’ve had three pieces of encouraging news in the past week or so. It’s all very pleasing though can’t say I’m cracking open the champagne just yet…

1. I came 6th again in last week’s Write Invite competition. I’m delighted to finish up in the top ten for the second time, and hope with practice to do even better.

2. I made the short list in the Fourth Quarter of the 2012 Flash 500 competition. This is a really popular and competitive competition and having entered it before and not been listed at all, I’m so thrilled to have had a mention.

3. A story I sent to the People’s Friend came back unwanted, but an editor did write me a long and helpful letter with some constructive feedback and points to remember for next time. She said they would love to read more of my stories. I’m really happy to have had this encouragement – it’s the furthest I’ve ever got with the People’s Friend, though of course, I hope I can step up my game and nail something they can accept in the very near future…

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2 thoughts on “Losing the Plot (and it all being okay…)

  1. Hey Alice. So glad you’ve had encouraging feedback. It lift’s your spirits and even constructive criticism can be done kindly, in a helpful manner that inspires us. It’s a lesson to learn for us all when writing reviews. Good luck with your next competition:-)

  2. Hi Diana, thanks heaps – you’re right and it’s especially nice when a busy editor has bothered to give you some feedback – it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I got another such email from The People’s Friend today – one day I’ll get it right for them! Hope your writing’s going well too.

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