Monday, 2 August 2010

AlphaBook Project: A sub-plot web was the key!

I am feeling so happy right now.

I sat down this evening to start writing: Chapter 1, page 1.  But something was stopping me, and it wasn't procrastination any more.  It was this niggling feeling that something big was missing from my story and notes so far.  I couldn't 'get at' one of my main characters.  He keeps his emotions all bottled up and doesn't communicate well with his family, and I was struggling to know how to portray his feelings without loads of exposition.

The book I've been using to guide my writing (which I will do a separate post about and review of soon) contains a couple of final exercises to do before the non-stop drafting.  One of these was along the lines of 'Explore your sub-text in a diagram'. Very little guidance than that, except to have fun!

So I just stuck my protagonists in the middle then spidered out around them, dropping in the other characters, with notes on the connections etc, until I had all my characters down.  Suddenly the problem was staring me in the face.  I had these two central characters, with other characters clustered around them forming sub-plot....and a whacking great blank space next to my male protagonist.  His wife had all kinds of connections, all over the place, but he had no-one who was on his side.  No-one to hear his side of the story - to be honest, no-one who really understood him.  Weird how guilty you feel when your characters are suffering...

Having no-one to fill this gap might be ok, if his total isolation would add to the story.  But it hit me, with a resounding clang around the head, that having just one person who really 'gets' him will make it beautifully clear that no-one else does.

I needed it to be a woman for various reasons, and I needed her to be no question of a love interest.  So she's much older than him.  Hoorah, I could even bump her off right near the climax when he has no-one else to turn to...

I think this is what is known as a breakthrough.

Have you had any breakthroughs or 'Eureka' moments with your writing that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear about them - it fills you with such elation!


  1. "I could even bump her off right near the climax when he has no-one else to turn to"

    AlphaChick!!! Spoilers!!! Don't do that again!!! *weeps and then rapidly composes herself before Boss Lady notices*

    It is fascinating as I have never been "a part" of an author writing a story before and I love all of the thought and planning that goes into it.

    The more I read, though, the more convinced I become that it is not something I'd want to do myself. I much prefer shorter, sweeter articles!

  2. Ha ha - I only said 'I could'. Will I or won't I? You'll have to buy the book to find out... Whoops getting waaay ahead of myself there!

    I'm glad you like reading about all the writerly stuff. You are already high on the list of 'potential test audience' - especially with your lovely media blog showing your critical credentials! :-)

  3. Hi Alphachick! Ha! I always thought MY inablility to put words on page had to do with procrastination! Just kidding. But, seriously, I used to feel like I had to set up my writing stage PERFECTLY before I could begin... I'd have my coffee, my comfy slippers, my desk light on. Then, when I was writing my book, I realized my words flowed best when I was relaxed. Those moments when I had a glass of wine and was watching TV and suddenly I felt inspired.

  4. He he - I know what you mean Erin, I did have to interrogate myself quite hard about whether this diagram-making was just procrastination! It seems to have cleared a block for me though - almost another 1,000 words tonight, and flowing so well I forgot to eat dinner!

    And the stage-setting thing is definitely true - although I'm struggling at the moment as we're hopefully moving house soon and all in disarray. I have a scented candle I light in whatever room I'm writing in. Sometimes it just feels nice to have a ritual!

  5. All right, let me introduce myself, my name's Clarissa. I actually saw your comment on Talli's site and that you watch Top Gear. I just HAD to look up your blog. I Love the show...did you see the show where they decide to turn their cars into caravans? OMG, that was so funny!

    Anyway, I'm now a follower.

    Now, as to your writing post: Have you tried talking to your characters? I do it all the time. I just sit down and ask them to tell me their problems. Or sometimes I pretend I'm being interviewed and they ask me about the character and I have to explain him, that helps me.


  6. Ooh, I like the web idea. I have most of my Eureka moments in the shower when I can't hear my children screaming. It seems you've already written a lot in a short amount of time. Keep going. Thanks for linking to my blog:)

  7. Clarissa: So glad to find a fellow TG follower! The episode with the caravans quite literally made me cry with laughter. It was Jeremy driving that ridiculous plywood monster with it swaying all over the place... I can't believe the series has finished already. After the last episode of 'Sherlock' this week I'll have nothing to watch on Sunday nights...

    Thanks for the tip about talking to the characters! I'll definitely try that. I was acting out some dialogue yesterday in my living room which seemed to make it flow better and sound good.

    Your blogs look great and I'm now following Listen to the Voices - and will have to find some time to read The Sholes Key!

    Jessie: Thanks for the encouragement. I thought your blog was lovely, and am particularly excited about the genie in the garden! Sounds like a fantastic idea. Looking forward to reading your first book when it's finished!

    Catch you both soon :-)

  8. Hello! Thank you for the oodles of luck and good karma for my query / contest! And Ginger loves compliments. :)

    And now I am here sending you oodles of luck too - hooray the first novel! This is an exciting time, the beginning of a project. It sounds like that diagram was a great way to explore your characters. Breakthroughs with my own - hm... I guess one big one (oh the eloquence of me!) was thinking of a way to quickly engage readers with my main character, to care about her despite her faults. I think I managed it, but who knows!

  9. Hi Jayne,

    Thanks for that! I might have to ask you about how you got the audience to care about your character - I think one of mine might end up distinctly unlikeable if I don't rescue her soon!

  10. This is so BRILLIANT! I LOVE that you're not pantsting through this and that you're putting in the time to figure these things out first. I think you might be surprised how fast you get through the first draft since you have all this work behind you. I hope it goes well for you!

  11. Thanks Michelle. All the pre-work was, if I'm honest, partly due to procrastination - I did tons of pre-work because I was putting off starting the thing!

    But you're right, it's definitely helping now I'm in draft stage - especially knowing all the characters' back stories, as it helps me know how they would respond in dialogue etc.

    I hope I get through it as fast as you suggest!