Losing the Plot

Well goodness, my last post got you all fired up. I appreciate reminders that I’m not a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

This week, a few words on the art/craft/whatever of writing. A friend recommended Stephen King’s book on the subject and as I’m always interested in how other writers go about the job, I took a look. I know quite a lot of novelists. Some share their work at every stage, seeking the opinion of other writers. I have eavesdropped on one such gathering. They call it ‘workshopping’ and I despise the very idea.  You cannot write a novel by committee. If your book stinks but you can’t smell it, it’s your editor’s job to break the news to you, not a round-table of colleagues, so-called.

I’ve generally been blessed with good editors. When they told me that my characters were great, my dialogue excellent and my plotting woefully feeble, I knew they were right. Sometimes I tried to do better. Mainly I didn’t bother. I was just writing (and still am) the kind of books I like to read. But I was surprised to learn that Stephen King doesn’t fuss too much about plot. I’d have thought his genre of writing demanded it. Maybe he’s a natural-born plotter and doesn’t even realise it.

On the topic of plot, King mentions Edgar Wallace, author of 170 novels, twelve of them in one year alone. He was also, allegedly, the inventor of the patented Wallace Plot Wheel. Are you mid-novel and feeling stuck? Spin the wheel for fresh inspiration. Maybe introduce a tragic accident, or an unexpected legacy that changes someone’s life? Perhaps some character returns from the dead, or undergoes a complete personality makeover. Oh no, you may think. Dei ex machina dropping from the sky like hailstones. Wallace didn’t care. He needed money and he wrote his very successful mysteries fast. There’s a joke that a caller was told Mr Wallace couldn’t come to the phone because he was at the midpoint of writing his next novel. ‘Midpoint?’ said the caller. ‘I’ll hold.’

There are such things as plot wheels. I imagine there are now plotting apps. There are certainly story idea lists, Create-a-Conflict and Select-a-Setting writing aids and character name generators. I wonder who uses them? I can spend a whole enjoyable morning choosing a name for a character, and all by myself.

As for Edgar Wallace, I’m not sure he invented any plot wheel, let alone patented it. I think Stephen King might be having a bit of fun with us. Nice story, though.


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