Character and Plot

2 minute read

Wordcount: 49,000+ Chapters 6.2 Start: 2009 Status: Ongoing

The book’s origins lie in a winter’s night, an evening watching The Third Man, and a housemate who needed space to speak to a friend on home turf. I ended up in Danny’s Burgers, around the corner from where I was living, with a frankly awful black tea in a plastic cup, and thrashed out the first scene.

I got up to about 50,000 words in that first draft, but couldn’t shift the story until I started tag-teaming with Monika back in 2013. She’s seen around eight complete rewrites – and somehow stayed sane in the process! – with the same characters but wildly different plots. Plots that were assembled on the fly.

I’ve read this is how George R.R. Martin writes. It’s a lot of fun – kind of like watching a TV show you really enjoy – and I’ve felt the flow of creativity and been happily surprised by the situtations that unfolded.

But it does mean I have lost the plot in all the fun little variations. Sure, I’ve got an idea of the overall cause and effect, some interesting ideas about character backstory that got them to the few days the book actually covers in “real time”. So it’s not all wasted.

I think it is possible to write a book without a clear plot; character dramas do this all the time. But I personally need for a coherent reason for people to behave as they should, a path through the words that I can grasp. This could be for a number of reasons, from being indoctrinated by the books, TV and movies I tend to watch, to a need for order in my own life, to see the wood that is in the trees.

But the plot is one thing. The characters also have to work within their own personal plots, made of their experiences and talents, built atop the genetic plot that started with a soup of organic molecules, and slowly evolved over time.

That’s what I think has happened here. The plot and characters have evolved from basic ideas way back in the first decade of this century, then were built on again in 2009, and then changed over the eight or so complete drafts I wrote in the intervening years.

Or to put it another way, unless you’re working with established archetypes and/or characters, you have to work out each person’s story for yourself. And you can do that by plotting the characters out before you start, or find that out by writing them and seeing what shakes out, which is what I’ve done.