Week 5: Plot and Theme

I did not forget last week’s post. I’ve often noticed in my own novel planning sessions that scene summaries take the longest time. So I thought I better use the extra week to put the necessary amount of detail into it. Now we’re in Week 5. This should be all about plot and theme.

If you’ve been working away these last two weeks you will have a decent idea by now on what your story is about. In this week, we will try and give some structure to your story. We will try and space out your big scenes evenly throughout the novel, and we’ll make sure that all your small scenes add up to the big scenes, that each big scene leads the reader onto the next, that your climax packs a punch…in short, we will try and put your story into something resembling a plot.

There are many definitions of plot, but the most practical one is that it’s the way your story develops. Now if you’re new to plotting and if you have no idea where to begin, this is a good time to read up on the ‘Three Act Structure’. This works on the theory (right or not) that human beings live life in three acts, and therefore they expect by instinct for their stories to be in three acts too. Almost all plays and all movies that you’ve ever watched conform to this structure, and though literature has more transgressors in this respect, a vast majority of classic novels were written in three acts. So the least you could do is read up on it and see if you could rearrange your novel accordingly.

The other thing you should be thinking right about now is theme. Stephen King said that if you were going to write a book worth three hundred pages, it better be about something. Now that you have character notes and scene summaries and so on, you should have a fair understanding of what that ‘something’ is. Now, of course, we’re all meaning seeking animals, so nothing means only one thing. Now would be the time to ask questions such as: “What do I want my reader to take away from this book?” Even if your novel is a tight hostage thriller which has no room for emotions, you may want to spend some time thinking if that is all your novel is about. Or is there some deeper meaning that you would like to convey? Better still, is there some deeper meaning hidden within your notes?

If you don’t find anything, don’t beat yourself up about it. But if you do find some recurring theme or image that holds your work together, make sure you bring it out and reinforce it. Of course, it goes without saying here that you should not beat your reader on the head with it. Go for subtlety, understatement and misdirection. Always better than going: “Oh, look, here’s a red thread in my garland. Do ya know what that means? Do ya? Here, let me tell you.”

If we do this for this week, from next week onwards we’re ready to start writing.

(This may be presumptuous of me, but some of you may be wondering why my blogging rate has dropped so considerably. That happens when I am in the middle of a book. There’s hardly time for anything else.)

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