Monday, 4 January 2010

Finding the Plot

Ok, this is my first post since Christmas so excuse me if it gets a bit ... disjointed. I've spent the intervening period furiously trying to pin down the plot of Back from the Dead, which seemed to be turning into a never-ending task. I'd set myself a target of today (4th Jan) to complete the design of the next draft, with the hope of incorporating all of the suggestions that the agent had for improving the book. As anyone who has had this sort of feedback knows, it can range from very specific to frustratingly vague. Luckily, the feedback I had was pretty specific, but it didn't stop me submitting a disastrous six chapter rewrite just before Christmas that completely missed the point. And even specific feedback leaves you with a whole bucketful of "how the hell do I make that happen?" kind of questions.

I tried all sorts of re-plotting techniques: Post-it notes, bullet-pointed lists, itemising the whole thing in Excel, etc. Every time I tried to catch the plot, it moved off in another direction and I thought about shooting it in the head more than once! Frustrated, I went back to rewriting chapters of the book instead and realised that a narrative method was the best way to approach the plotting problem.

Ordinarily, I hate synopses, but I decided to go for something really detailed that would cover every plot machination - roughly one paragraph per chapter. I quickly discovered that what I hate most about the synopsis is deciding what to leave out, so for a change I got to chuck in every relevant detail I could think of. As you may have noticed, I like to make life difficult for myself and I quickly hit a problem with two possible plot lines which were mutually exclusive. One was complex and very tightly constructed - eventually revealing the baddie as one of the characters you'd least expect. The other built on the draft I already had, bringing the existing baddies further to the fore and making them nastier. I love Swiss-watch precision-tooled plots, so I went with the former, tying my brain in knots for days as I tried to make the forward and backward stories tie together. I eventually got something that kind of worked, but it was way too complicated - especially for a children's book that I was trying to get down from 50,000 to around 45,000 words. Realising that maybe the agent was actually right when she told me I wasn't that good at plotting, I retraced my steps to take the latter path - suddenly it was like running on asphalt instead of through a swamp. I won't say it was easy from that point onwards, but it definitely became achievable.

Managing to hit my own targets for a change, I now have a 4,000 word synopsis of the whole book to work from. I'm also hoping to get some feedback from the agent on this, so it could all change again. But change is good, right???

Nick.

Update: The agent has read the synopsis (yes, already) and likes it! Full speed ahead then...

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