Pantsters and Pitches

I’ve finished the edits for Billabong Bend, and am having a break from writing. Instead I’m riding my horse, pulling up ragwort in the paddocks and generally enjoying the beauty on offer here at Pilyara. Writing is never very far from my thoughts though, for a new novel is brewing.

pantster 1I’m a pantster at heart. My stories evolve organically. I’d get bored if I already knew everything that was going to happen – and it seems I’m in good company!

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”  ~Stephen King in On Writing

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through.”  ~Ray Bradbury

pantster 2Ha, take that plotters! 🙂 However the realities of commercial publishing make a degree of planning essential, especially when you’re pitching an unwritten book as I’m doing for the first time. Writing an outline is always tricky, but what if you don’t know precisely what happens yourself? I like to start with a short synopsis, 120 words or so. This can be lengthened or abbreviated as needed. The most useful pitch advice I ever received was a simple formula. This is a story about …….. who wants more than anything to ……… but can’t because ………. ‘If your story doesn’t fit into this template, you don’t have one.’  And my teacher was right. This breaks the narrative down to its bare bones – character, goal and conflict. Take The Wizard Of Oz for example. It’s a story about a little girl named Dorothy, who wants more than anything to go home, but can’t because she’s stuck in a strange land. I used this formula when I pitched my first novel Brumby’s Run to Penguin. ‘It’s a story about a spoilt city girl named Samantha, who wants more than anything to build a fresh future in Victoria’s beautiful high country, but can’t because it means stealing her sister’s life.’ Worked like a charm

panster 3So now I need a pitch for my new novel.
– I’m not too worried that I don’t know how it ends yet. Pitches for me have always worked best when they don’t tell the full story, but finish instead with a hook, an intriguing question.
– I’ll concentrate on character and conflict, and never mention theme. As novelist Sophie Masson says, ‘Themes belong in English studies, not in novel outlines.’
– It will be my very best writing.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and a heartfelt thank you for your support during the year. Here’s to a wonderful 2014!!!

christmas in the bush

Going Public With Your Writing Habit, by Phillipa Fioretti

I’m time poor right now, hurrying to meet an editing deadline for next year’s release, Billabong Bend. So instead of my usual post, here is a marvellous piece on writing by Australian author Phillipa Fioretti. In 2008 Phillipa was selected for participation in the Hachette Australia/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program. Her first book, The Book of Love, Hachette Australia, 2010, has also been published in Germany, Romania, Norway, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro and the sequel, The Fragment of Dreams was published in May 2011. Her third book, For One Night Only, will be published by Pan MacMillan’s digital press, Momentum, in January 2014

Writing Novels in Australia

It’s not easy to start writing and be taken seriously. Many, many people write – seven percent of Australians according to one source – and so few are traditionally published. It’s the cruel fact that underlies the writing life. Those who know the industry understand this. They also know that what is published is largely dictated by the market and that many incredibly talented writers are passed over and never get their chance.

It’s not really common knowledge in the non-writing world that this is the case. Unpublished writers are plagued with questions like, “How’s that little book you were writing coming along?” and “Have you got a publisher yet?” Is this people politely taking an interest? Yes, sometimes – but also a faint undercurrent of scorn, with the unspoken label of ‘wannabe’ hanging in the air. Adding this inevitable response to the traditional self-doubt of a writer can magnify the…

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Subplots

subplot 1I’m planning my new novel (as much as a pantster can) and have been thinking a lot about subplots. I love dreaming them up – B stories, those side stories that add dimension and complexity to the main narrative. Take a suspense thriller for example. Our heroine Susan, is a teacher. An outbreak of bizarre behaviour among her high school students leads her to believe they are being mysteriously hypnotised. Solving the puzzle is the main plot. But perhaps Susan also has trouble at home, a rocky marriage she’s trying to save. We’ll see a different side of her in scenes where she fighting for her relationship, than we will when she’s being a super sleuth. Subplots allow writers to deepen characterisation.

subplot 3Used well, subplots also help emphasise theme. The theme may be finding one’s authentic self. In the main story, Susan’s exploration of hypnosis and the human psyche makes her question her mundane, unadventurous life. Is it fulfilling or has she settled?  In the subplot, Susan holds on to her husband, by pretending to be someone she’s not. At some point she realises she needs to let him go. The subplot illustrates theme from a different angle.

Subplot 2Subplots give readers variety – a rest from the main plot, especially if you’ve hit a slow patch. You can switch over to an interesting subplot and let the main story play out in the background for a bit. They can provide light relief, an opportunity for humour to be injected into a serious story. And they can be a lot of fun to write. Remember though, they should be tackled in the same way as your main plot with their own narrative arc. And they shouldn’t overwhelm the story. If a subplot takes over the main one, it’s trying to tell you something. Maybe that’s where the action really is?

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