Plot? Does it matter – this is the endless debate. When I started the book, I didn’t think about plot – not at all. Because the story arc was already in existence, I simply thought of it as a chronological narrative, a life story, and that the details of that story would be enough. It’s a simple enough plot shape, after all, triumph through adversity. But a critical reader asked me, where is the plot in this? And I thought, well, where is the plot?
What makes a plot? Intrigue? Tension? Suspense? The desire to know more? Complex plots are littered with little cues and clues, hooks, that make you read on because you’re desperate to know what happens. You crave the answers to the questions that the author has been posing, overtly or more subtly, throughout the narrative. Woven into obvious shifts of narrative and storyline, character action or dialogue can be a hundred tiny barbs that hook into your mind and drag you along with the story’s forward momentum. This is what makes us read on, you might say.
But… would we want to read on if we didn’t care about the characters? Why does a novel work? Because we want to find out more. Because we enjoy reading. Because it takes us away? And no one is going to read a novel if they don’t engage with the characters. So the best plot in the world could be worthless if there is not something about the characters that keeps you coming back for more. Certainly, as a writer, I care about my characters. I want to give them a rounded life, albeit on the page, and I want to bring their story to a satisfying conclusion, one way or another.
And how do we begin to care about characters? We are seduced by the language. When I buy a book, unless it is by an author I already know well, I read the first few lines, or the first two pages, and I know immediately whether the style is right for me or not. Immediately, the book seduces me, by language, then by character, and then by plot.
In my book, Amanda’s narrative opens with action. It may be her narrative, event by event in her changing life, but it’s about action. I care about her. I cry when she cries, I feel her pain. I love like she loves. To bring her alive I have to care about her, and this means that when she is a victim of violence, I live through it too. I bear witness. And so the plot becomes important, because I care about her, and I need that relief, the closure, the satisfaction, the fulfilment, or even the grief, that comes with the inevitable ending. This is what I need. This is why I write. So we can’t see plot in isolation. It’s one part of the larger symphony of the novel. And like a symphony, there are movements, shapes, a glissando, a growing crescendo, and a climactic and catastrophic finale.
Which leads on to the issue of endings, and the choices I’ve had to make there… but that’s for next time.
I’ll just say this. I hope my readers don’t hate me when they get to the end.