Weaving The Plot Web

I’ve seen more than a few intended, hopeful novels abandoned before they’d had a chance at life. In most cases the writers floundered at the planning stage without even setting pen to paper. They’d worried that there wasn’t enough substance to the story; the plot wasn’t intricate enough, and the characters weren’t interesting…
Of course this was all true – because the plot and characters hadn’t even existed yet! These writers had wanted to delineate the perfect winning formula BEFORE they’d committed anything to the page.
Building up a multi-layered plot within fiction is a less daunting prospect if we keep in mind that the movements in a story are all offshoots of a handful of core ideas. If we understand this principle, then once we have a premise that really excites us we need only to meditate upon its basic elements – to study their implications, and watch as they play off and influence one another.
To illustrate how this works, I’ll describe the manner in which my own first novel took shape. At the onset I’d envisioned a pre-industrial world where music was prohibited. Several subsidiary ideas promptly attached themselves around this core theme. They helped me define the peoples living in the territory I was writing about: they were superstitious, a bit puritanical, and fearful of anything esoteric or mystical.
I assumed that there had to be a historical precedent for this fear, and this thought inspired sketches of an older culture that had embraced musical traditions in good Dionysian spirit. Had these earlier peoples been consumed by their excess? Or had they thrived, and aroused the jealousy of the newcomers to the land? I realized, also, that my imagined society – like any other – would have its misfits. After all, music wouldn’t be outlawed unless people knew that it existed; thus there had to be music-makers. Did they hide their devotion to their craft so that they could exist amongst common folk? Or did they dwell on the outskirts of civilization?
These kinds of questions arose naturally as I dwelt upon my initial conception over time. My answers provided layer upon layer of substance to my world and my storyline. It became easier to envision social, political and religious structures, cultural conflicts, and the motivations at work within my characters.
Working in this fashion might sound more akin to observing and recording rather than inventing. I’ve found that it does indeed feel like this, especially once the real writing is underway. This is one reason why I work without an outline and pursue my rough draft in extemporaneous fashion. Truth is, once you’ve grasped your initial conception of your story there will be so many other ideas simmering beneath it, just waiting for you to uncover them. Your first draft will provide you with the space and time to do so.
And if you’re worried about sufficient complexity, just remember that your writing flows from your own organic experience of life – which is anything but simple and one-dimensional.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I would expound upon this and suggest that just a handful of core themes (again, if they truly excite you) are worth a thousand pictures.
So your real task, once you’ve opened the floodgates, might just be to pray that your writing hand can keep up with your mind!

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