I was speaking to a writer the other day who had difficulty with the idea of creating a plot, preferring to leave himself open to ambiguity, mystery, and surprise. For him, it was this that made writing enjoyable. If there was a plot it came from characters. Having a separate plan to which he might refer seemed restrictive: a character would have to act a certain way to conform to it, the dialogue would suffer, as would their ability to react spontaneously. The ideal, for him, was to be as natural as he could while maintaining cohesion.
But half way through the writing of his novel he had got stuck. He didn’t know where to go next. His solution was to create a ‘markers’: passages of writing set later in the novel which gave him a direction. Also, to get clearer on the roles of some of the characters he had created. Freed up, he started writing again.
I am always fascinated by this kind of approach. I wrote my first novel by drawing up synopses, and planning the content of chapters. It enabled me to get from one end of the novel to the other, much as one might climb a mountain, moving from one camp to another. The fear was that without some kind of structure, the story would just drift off into nothing.
More recently, I have been experimenting with more free-flowing, and experimental methods, trusting that there is an innate creativity that, given the chance, will express itself. When I have tried to return to plot, it has sometimes felt enervating.
And yet, and yet. While I was writing this post a new plot element occurred to me. And I like it. I know where it will fit, and the problems that it solves. Also, creating a plot is, in itself, a creative act.
What I’m really talking about here is pleasure and enjoyment. What gives you a kick when you write. Also, what works: what will help me to get through the writing of a first draft. I suspect that I will always move back and forth between plot and spontaneity, and never quite be sure which is appropriate when. My only guide is that which gives me greatest energy and satisfaction.