Plot and prevarication

I can’t plot like Tim Powers. I wish I could, given some of the amazing books he’s produced, but the whole meticulous research, painstaking planning and detailed outlining thing doesn’t work for me. I did ask him how, given he knows exactly what’s going to happen (and when, and to whom) before he writes the first word of a novel, he can make himself actually sit down and write the sucker (because if I know what’s going to happen, it takes all the fun out), and he said that it helps to think of the novel as the production of a play: he writes the script in advance, but the play only comes alive when the actors – i.e. the words on the page – come out.

Good advice, and even though his method doesn’t work for me, his talk on plotting was crammed with such gems. One of them, mentioned in passing, was the way that plot and character should interact: through character choices. Characters should make decisions that cause interesting stuff to happen. Their decisions shouldn’t appear to be made because that’ll make interesting stuff happen (even if, beneath it all, this is actually the case); they should be logical choices, ideally difficult choices, sometimes surprising choices, but always believable choices.

I went away and thought about this, and realised that though the endgame in Guardians of Paradise does depends on character choices, these choices currently happen ‘off-stage’. They are reported on later, one of them as the relevant actor considers what she has just done, the other as a different character tells a third one what he’s decided. This just won’t do. And so, the single short chapter where the two decisions occurred has now been expanded into two long ones, made even longer by the discovery that the short intercut scene where a third character considers a decision, but doesn’t actually reach it, needs to have her not only make a difficult choice, but try and act on it.

Damn you, Powers, for putting me even further behind schedule. And thank you, for making sure my actors actually acted.

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