PLOTLINES AND HOW TO MAKE SURE EVERYTHING STAYS SANE  

I have read all kinds of documents in my life on work. The difference between a document that is informative or analytic versus a work of fiction is the fictional plotline. Sometimes, even highly technical documents can get very creative, and even a lay-person can spot the embellishments! But back to fiction and plotlines – How do you make sure everything stays sane?

IS IT NECESSARY TO OUTLINE YOUR NOVEL?

Absolutely not. Different people work in different ways. It is true that the risk of errors creeping into a copy is reduced considerably if you have a system in place, but for some, chaos makes sense. Like a cluttered desk, attacking the plot with no written-down outline is the only thing that works for some. Creativity cannot follow a schedule or a plan or a fixed outline. In fact, I may have an outline in place but I may never stick to it. Does that mean that the plot is getting out of hand? Only if the topic is preset and there are narrow guidelines to follow. Not outlining before you get started is not an issue at all. On the other hand, if you are unable to provide an outline once you’re done, that is cause for concern. It means you do not have a story. It means you have no idea what you are writing about or have written about. Is that possible? Yes it is. Whether it is just one page or four thousand, once done, if you are unable to summarize it in a concise manner, then something is very wrong. People get into this situation when they allow themselves to get too deep in with the belief that ‘a story writes itself’. Paths that plotlines meander through, during the course of the story-building, follow choices set by the story itself, but beyond that this should not mean anything.

Going back to the decision to outline or not to outline before you get started, the only rule is don’t let anyone force you into anything that you aren’t used to.

WHAT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS?

This is quite another story. What are your characters?  When I wrote my first short-story that got published, I knew what my main character wanted. This is important.  When writing about what happened to someone, it becomes important to make it clear who it happened to. I am making up my own rule here, but in the past, when people admired my prose, it was because I was consistently following this one rule that I’d set for myself.

The three R’s of characterization – Relatable, Relevant and Readable. There is a reason why romance sells. The three ‘Rs’ there are easy to spot. This rule is so set in gold that even if a character does not seem relevant to you, you can take it as a given that the majority who have accepted that character think otherwise. You know now where the rest of the world is. This is one of the reasons why books are important.

Relatability is not as important and it sometimes works in reverse as well. People are drawn to opposites of themselves and this makes better copy. Relatability also works through someone.

Readability speaks to authenticity. Characters etched too far beyond the cuff must still be relatable in some way. A green monster that crawls out of gutters and turns into the person sitting next to you at work is genuinely funny even if the character itself is far out there. This is where creativity lies, in making everything readable for a certain kind of audience.

READERS MUST WORK WITH THE PLOT ELSE IT MIGHT SEEM INSANE

What does this mean? A good plot never gives everything away. A good plot is always open to interpretation. A good plot hooks the reader and gets him to fill in the blanks and explain those bits left to interpretation. If the reader isn’t hooked, the plot can seem insane, and this is really the author’s problem. When writing business documents the creative bits are usually in place for a purpose. There it’s all about selling the product. Fiction requires selling the plot as something the reader needs to know more about, through just this one story that you have presented.

BALANCING THE CHECKBOOK

The balance between the outrageousness of the plot and the characters, the balance between the message and the pace, the balance between the hook and the follow-through…you get the idea.  It is about people and emotions and we are in an era where we want robots to have emotions.

While this can get as boring as balancing the checkbook, not having the story levelled and grounded will draw attention to it in the wrong way. Nobody wants that. This is where the author needs to put a distance between himself/herself and the story. What is real may not seem so even if authentically reproduced, especially if the plot isn’t levelled. This rule is also set in gold. Making a story believable is more about giving the reader what he/she wants than telling the real story and this requires clever presentation.

FINALLY, write from the heart. Unless you are ranting or rambling it will work. This is the easiest thing to do for people who love to write… and yet the hardest. There are so many ways you could run into a cliché with this one, that it all seems futile at times. The authentic voice comes from that story about a certain person you know you can never talk about. The fake one seems too fake and there is no turning it around. Thank goodness, we are in it because we love the craft. That is the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow.