Monday, 7 December 2009

Thoughts on Writing - Plot vs Character

When I write, I am aware of tension between plot and character. Most of my readers are sophisticated in the genre, and they come to a book with expectations. As an author I can observe conventions, or play with them, by setting up prospects which are fulfilled or confounded. But the unwritten parameters are always present.
Crime thrillers are plot driven. I would like to write a murder story where I do not decide the identity of the killer until the very end, taking the same journey as my readers, trying to establish which of the suspects is the culprit. In practice, the story has to be neatly planned so that every detail leads towards a conclusion that is satisfying yet unpredictable. I have to know where the journey ends in order to take my readers in the right – or the wrong – direction on the way.
Working out plots is fun, involving a lot of problem solving. My main interest, however, lies in my characters. Sometimes a character has to perform a certain action for the sake of the plot but, as any writer will tell you, characters sometimes take off in their own directions. I cannot allow a character to act 'out of character' or the illusion is broken. Readers must never think "I don't believe this character would ever do/say that". So there can be tension between the direction in which a character develops, and the requirements of the plot. My readers should know nothing of this conflict. It is my job as the author to create a believable fictitious world with plausible characters whose behaviour produces an elegant plot.
In the meantime, I am on a journey of my own. For an unknown author on a miniscule budge, Cut Short has been a great success. My reaction to the overwhelmingly positive response is relief. But there is no room for complacency. Like a thoughtless remark, once a book is put out there, it cannot be recalled. The second book in my series will be published in 2010. My manuscript for Road Closed is finished. I can only hope it will be as well received as Cut Short.

After selling out at Waterstones in Harrow and St Albans last weekend,
A few more signings before Christmas -
12th December WH Smith's in Harrow
17th December WH Smith's in York
19th December WH Smith's in Brent Cross

Cut Short is in stock again at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com - delivering before Christmas


Publisher http://www.noexit.co.uk/titles.php/itemcode/488
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW3Ixmq30yA
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cut-Short-DI-Geraldine-Steel/dp/1842432710

32 comments:

Pat said...

It is a genre I know nothing about and only recently have I come to enjoy reading thrillers - since I was a teenager and read anything to hand.
I'm pleased all is going well for you - as you deserve.

Leigh Russell said...

As a teenager you should read anything and everything. How else will you discover what you like? Of course, by the time you have established what you enjoy, you have grown up and want different things... It's a journey, Pat, isn't it? I'm glad you have come to enjoy reading thrillers just now!

....Petty Witter said...

I agree - characters are so important, to me they can make or break a book. I have to feel I have some kind of relationship with at least one character.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely true, once a book is out there it's out there. The gift that keeps on giving, or not.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Petty - unfortunately the character who really fascinated me was my killer. He was easly to write. He just rolled out onto the page very easily. I had to think a lot harder about my detective, who continues through the series.

Leigh Russell said...

I have to reach the stage where I think 'That's it, enough!' with my manuscripts or I'd never have the nerve to send them off. There are so many little changes I would like to make to Cut Short now but it's too late!

Leigh Russell said...

ps Charles, that last reply was to your comment.

Pelotard said...

I recognise that bit about the antagonist being easier to write than the protagonist... If you dream up plausible, 3-D antagonists, they're usually full of interesting inner conflicts, aren't they? :)

Leigh Russell said...

That's true, Pelotard. I suppose that's why so many contemporary detectives have angst-ridden complicated lives - it makes them more interesting. I've been working hard to give Geraldine an engaging back story in Road Closed. It has raised issues I'm not sure how to deal with in book 3 . . .

fizzycat said...

Looking forwood to the next book.
I liked Geraldine in the first book,I think it was in her attitude to life coming through. Will be intresting to see this develop in future reads.
Perhaps the cotton wool killer will surface, who knows.

fizzycat said...

Dodgy spider too..

Leigh Russell said...

One of my books will have to feature cotton wool, just a mention somewhere, with a sleepy character on the same page. It will be so subtle that only you will recognise the tribute.

Leigh Russell said...

A tribute to my blog friend sleepy, that is.

Rick said...

Morning, Leigh! I hope you're not having snow there unless it's a beautiful landscape. I really liked this post- especially the idea of tension between the plot and the characters. First thing I've read this morning and glad I started out my day with you.

Your next book will, of course, be a huge success. According to my white cat. And she's very smart.

dgb said...

Leigh, quickly, thanks for stopping by my blog. I think you're the only person who has--no, it's not terrible, but it is new.
One of my job assignments, the most pleasant one, is co-hosting a weekly cable television program produced by my employer, a public library system. Every week we discuss new and favorite older books, DVDs, etc, and show an 8-9 minute interview with an author.
Our fiction writers always say that character comes first, and some admit that they have no idea where the story will take them when they begin with a specific cast of characters.

Leigh Russell said...

With a smart cat on my side, how can I go wrong, Rick? No snow here but plenty of rain. The snow will come...

Leigh Russell said...

Hi dbg - nice to hear from you. In crime fiction, the plot has to work out, so characters have to carry out certain actions to serve the plot. I find the parameters both constraining and helpful.

Tina said...

Hi, Leigh. Thanks for visiting my place. I am fluey at the moment, but as soon as I can, I'm off to buy your book. Very exciting!

Leigh Russell said...

Oh no! Flu! How horrible. I'm glad you plan to read Cut Short and hope you enjoy it. Do come back and let me know what you think of it. In the meantime - get better very soon!

UberGrumpy said...

Well done you! Any signings in Winchester?

Leigh Russell said...

Yes Ubergrumpy! I'm booked to sign at Waterstones in Winchester on 20th March. Will confirm nearer the time, and it should appear on the schedule on my publisher's website.

UberGrumpy said...

All right! Interestingly enough, my daughter works there. We'll be there and a-buying.

Middle Ditch said...

I too love plotting Leigh. It's all in my head and as long as I have a good beginning, a twist in the middle and an all important end, the rest falls in to place.

I'm glad things are going so well for you and I still cherish our (too short) meeting. Who knows! You might be in the neighbourhood again when you are doing your book signing for Road Closed. I love that title.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Monique - it's my favourite title so far. I hope you like the book. I'll let you know when it's published and hope to see you again!

Val said...

lol...I can understand what you mean when you say the characters sometimes just take off on their own.

In many of my short stories over the years, my characters have taken the stories in directions I hadn't thought of...and did better than I'd planned.

Leigh Russell said...

My trouble is, Val, that with crime fiction I can't deviate too far from the plot... can't let the nasty killer get away in the end!

Val said...

Although letting the killer get away in the end is a very wicked twist to a plot wouldn't you say?

Pelotard said...

I'll just say one word: "Moriarty" :)

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Val, wicked indeed! Of course it can be done, especially in a series... hmmm...

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Pelotard - Didn't Moriarty fall down the cliff with Holmes? But of course Holmes survived... !

Val said...

I think an unsolved case would really lead well into a sequel...or into a very great ending on a novel...
and leave your readers aching for the next book to find out what happens!

Pelotard said...

Oh yes, my mistake. Valley of Fear (with Moriarty in it) was published after The Final Problem, but set before it. Still, the nasty killer can escape from prison, be set free because of a procedural error, or even have a narrow escape while his criminal empire is dismantled, achieving both a victory for the protagonist and sequel possibilities for the author. :)