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.
Leigh Russell

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