Write a best seller Part Twelve
How to develop brilliant book plots
All writers will at some stage of their careers have experienced that lightbulb moment when a story idea pops into your imagination, inspired by some chance encounter, overheard conversation or random thought. You see an incredible partnership at a show, hear a fascinating story about someone at an event and inspiration strikes. Writers should always have a notebook kept in their jacket pocket, the glove compartment of the car, or online in a telephone memory and will be familiar with the delighted scrabble to jot down the idea which may, or may not eventually become a short story, or even a full novel.
There are some writers who can then take those random ideas and turn them into the plot of a novel, but most then prefer to write a brief plot outline and develop the story from there to ensure the story incorporates a satisfying climax and resolution.
Personally I’m a plotter; I love to see the story outline before any writing is done. I find that I need to know where I am going before I start to write. I love the time spent mulling over plot outlines, often huddled under a blanket beside the sea. There is nothing like the eureka moment when a seemingly impossible and insurmountable block in the plot clears with a satisfying outcome. Some stories just will not make a good novel; they lack the necessary machinations to become something readable.
There is such a lot more to writing a novel than the act of just sitting down and churning out heaps of pages of text. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence can do that. The true story writer weaves an unforgettable story and memorable horses and riders set against a unique equestrian background that will grip the reader from the first line of the book and leave them hugely disappointed that they have finished the book and have to leave the characters they have come to love.
One of the first decisions an author has to make when developing the plot of their novel is whether the end will be happy, unhappy or somewhere in between.
There are four endings common to every book:-
1. Happy : the protagonist achieves the goal or solves the problem, and his success turns out to be a good thing. The rider wins at Olympia against all odds.
2. Tragedy: the protagonist fails to achieve the goal, and his failure is a bad thing. The racehorse falls at the last fence and the race is lost.
3. Tragi-comedy (Personal Triumph): the protagonist fails to achieve the goal, but his failure turns out to be a good thing. The rider fails to win Burghley, but instead is given a scholarship to train with a top rider who they have fallen in love with.
4. Comi-tragedy (Personal Tragedy): the protagonist achieves his goal, but his success turns out to be a bad thing. The man wins a top level dressage competition, but his wife is sick of the hours he puts into his sport and leaves him.
It is essential that the story has a goal, or problem. This is the foundation of the plot. With your story goal in mind, ask yourself what the outcome of your characters’ pursuit of that goal will be. Will they, achieve the goal? Will the newly single middle aged lady manage to keep her beloved stables? Will they solve the problem? Will the horse loving detective work out who murdered the farrier? Will the characters experience the right way to solve a problem or accomplish something or experience the wrong way to try to solve a problem?
Consider do you want the reader to understand or learn from the characters’ failures, or from their successes? Have you got some social commentary to make about the way people deal with one another? Do you want the horrible, cruel rider to get their comeuppance?
It may seem to be going about the plot creation in the wrong way, planning the story ending before the climax. However, if you know you want a particular type of ending, then you will need to create a climax that will set the reader up for it. If you want the untrained and poverty stricken rider to win at Badminton they have to seem to have no chance of achieving their aim. The writer should tease the reader, creating hope that things will work out and then dashing those hopes, only, just when things seem utterly hopeless, for things to turn out well. On the other hand, if you already have a vision of what happens at the climax that will determine the ending.
Traditional theories of plot development define the climax as the moment of greatest emotional tension in a story and the point at which the protagonist’s fortunes turn. The main character arrives at a tough situation. Their much loved horse is sold, or dies. They then make a decision or do something that determines decisively whether or not the story goal will be achieved- find another horse, usually a no hoper and continue with their chosen path. Basically they decide whether or not to change himself or his behaviour.
The character through whose eyes the audience sees the story – will have a particular way of trying to solve problems that is the key to the plot development. With some characters, it is a type of behaviour. With others, it is a personality trait that either helps or hinders them.
In a story there needs to be twists and turns and lulls in the action, a delicate balance. Too much action and the reader will have no chance to get to know the characters. Too much misery and the reader will lose interest in the character.
A good writer who is interested in creating a gripping plot will be able to identify the peaks and troughs in the plot and adjust the pace accordingly. This can be done by writing down the individual scenes and going through them to see where the story is not achieving all that it needs to. Some writers like to map out the story plot with flow charts or using post it notes on a wall so that the plot can be seen as a whole.
While all of this plotting sounds like hard work and far removed from the vision so many writers have of sitting day after day knocking out a bestseller, it is an essential part of the craft of writing and one that proficient writers will relish in order to make their novel the best it can be.
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- Be inspired to write equestrian fiction