Now, can I ask you something? Is it just me, or is plotting really difficult?
I’ve heard people say many different things about planning a book. Everything from ‘have a chapter by chapter breakdown before you start writing’, to ‘so long as you know how it starts, how it ends, and a few key points in the middle you’ll be fine’, to ‘ it’ll just work itself out’. At the moment, from the middle of my plotting quagmire, I’m not sure I believe any of these things!
About a year ago I wrote a chapter by chapter breakdown of my work in progress, which was about 10,000 words long at that point. It was joyless, and didn’t help me. I just went from having plot problems in my head to having plot problems on paper. And the second method doesn’t work for me either; I’ve always known how the book is going to start, how it ends, and the key points in the middle. The difficulties I’m having are with working out how to get my characters where they need to be, and how to get them out again. I don’t want to make things too convenient for them or use outside forces to intervene, robbing them of their agency.
To be fair, I’ve made things hard on myself through my choice of setting and genre. My book can best be described as magic realism, if such a thing exists for 8 to 12 year old readers. This means I have to set up the world of my protagonist, and the ‘magical realism’ world of the antagonist, plus get in enough sub-plot to keep my readers happy, as well as figuring out how a 12 year old and a 14 year old can infiltrate a secure adult organisation and not be immediately caught…
To sort all this out, I’ve started reading up on how to structure a novel – about time too, I’m sure you’ll say. I can’t believe I’ve come so far through my MA without ever picking up a book on the subject. Anyway, so far I’ve read about avoiding a ‘sagging middle’ – which sounds very uncomfortable – or an ending that fizzles out. A lot of the advice is great. Seeing the main action of the book as a series of causally linked mini-plots makes a lot of sense, as does the idea of carefully placing your key plot points, both those where the protagonist makes discoveries and where they’re exposed to the antagonist.
However, none of this is helping with my ‘how do I get my character into that room at that point, and then back out again?’ problems. Is this something that all writers find difficult? Don’t get me wrong, I’m making some progress, but it seems to take an age for my narrative wrinkles to smooth down. My question is, fellow writers, is this normal?