Monday, 23 April 2018

A QUESTION OF QUERY LETTERS


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday - I hope you all had a great weekend, or at least are glad that it's over and a fresh week has begun. Today's blogpost is brought to you by a question that floated into my Twitter feed last week, as follows:
"Would really appreciate advice. Told not to mention the 3D's (divorce, death and disease) in submission covering letter. My pitch YA fantasy fiction is partly about death & comes from experience. Am I safe to mention the personal experience or avoid at all cost?"
I had to read this a couple of times before I could actually decipher it, which is nothing to do with the asker's clarity of expression, and everything to do with the strangeness of the actual question. Surely I must be misreading? So I tweeted back asking them to shoot me a quick email (and for permission to include my answer in a blogpost, to benefit all). I received the following reply via my website contact form: 
"The 3D's that were referred to concern their inclusion within a "pitch admissions letter".

The YA Fantasy Fiction I have written does deal with death throughout the story (not as dark as it might sound). As a family (myself and three children) we have been unfortunate, as are many families, to be visited by a succession of close family deaths, the majority of which were very unexpected, sudden and violent.

This was one of the reasons why my book deals (all be it in a fantasy manner), as it is something I have watched my own children struggle with.

From what I understand, some agents ask for personal experience connected to your writing whilst others have given the 3D's as something to never mention.

I am just concerned that if I dare to mention one of the 3D's then no agent is going to get beyond my initial letter."
I'm not gonna lie - I'm still super confused by this. I even Googled 'the 3Ds' and 'Pitch letters' to try to find out if this is some kind of common maxim that I'm not aware of. After all, it's been a long time since I wrote a query letter to an agent, and I've never taken part in #pitmad or any of those more recent online pitch-competitions. Perhaps there was something I was missing? Well, perhaps there is, but I still can't find anything about this odd prohibition online, so I'm just going to go with my instinct and answer as common sense dictates.

There are two questions here, really. The first is: Should I dare to mention mention death, divorce or disease in my query letter?

The answer is straightforward. Yes, of course - if these are important themes in your work.

The point of any kind of pitch or query is to tell the targeted publishing professional what your book is about. That's what they're for. If your book deals heavily with bereavement and you don't mention that in the query letter then that query letter is no good. You can't just find and replace the word 'death' with 'cheese' and hope the reader won't notice. And if you write a query that cunningly manages to gloss over that whole death theme and somehow convince the agent or editor that the book really is about cheese and not bereavement, they're going to be extremely annoyed when they request it and find that there is no mention of Gorgonzola but much mention of grief and loss.

If there's actually an agent out there who is refusing to read any submissions which deal with these three topics - and if there really are, then they must be vanishingly rare - then that's their loss, since I'd say about 75-85% of books (not including picturebooks... probably) touch on at least one of these, and many two or more! Including most of the best and most important books. I mean, agents and editors are free to say that they're not interested in whatever topics they like - I guess - although I seems like a random and counter-productive demand.

But what's really crucial is that you're not going to want to pitch to any of these agents or editors. Your work isn't going to interest them because it's literally about the thing that they've said they don't like. So steer clear. As fas as I'm aware, the vast majority of agents and editors still don't dictate that major themes of human existence be erased from a writer's work. I've never met or heard of one, anyway. This sounds like junk advice to me. The kind of Chinese Whispers stuff that has moved so far from its real basis, if it ever had one, that it has become complete nonsense.

Now for the second part: Should I mention my own family experience with grief, and how this has influenced my writing, in my pitch?

The answer to this one is more complex, but basically boils down to: Yes... if you're comfortable with sharing that information AND CONVINCED IT'S RELEVANT.

You are not required to bare your family tragedy to an agent or editor in order to convince them that you have the right to write about death, loss and grief. If you're worried that people won't understand the authenticity of your work without that context and are forcing yourself, with teeth gritted, to justify yourself: please don't. #Ownvoices is a wonderful thing, but it is not about writers herding themselves into ghettos where only semi-autobiographical work is valued.

If you're worried that people won't understand the authencity of your work and are eager to share the context... I guess go ahead? But be sure, first, that your own experiences really are relevant to the themes in the work. I'll mention here that all of my books deal with death, loss and bereavement to some extent and in some form. My own experiences with those things have absolutely, undoubtedly, indisputably informed those stories... but the books stand on their own. No one needs to know about my family's history of suffering to read, understand, or be moved by those books.

Perhaps there are unique circumstances surrounding your own experiences and those of your children and these inspired the book in a really direct way. I can't specuIate on that. I don't know you and I haven't read your book. If you're absolutely convinced this information is vital then include it. But do so very briefly and in such a way that it's clear this is only background to the book, not any kind of emotional appeal to the publishing professional to give your book a break because of what your family has been through. I'm sure that's not what you're intending, but unfortunately people do make emotional appeals like this in query letters all the time. I even get requests like this sometimes, from people who want me to refer them to my agent, or editor, or even just publish them myself (somehow???).

These appeals are often coming from a good place in someone's heart - but it just makes the person reading their letter intensely uncomfortable and irritated because it feels like emotional blackmail and what's more, no matter how heartbreaking the story, they CAN'T do what the query writer wants and publish something purely because they feel bad for them. Once you've recieved a few letters like this, you become very sensitive and prickly about them, so be careful.

It probably won't send up any red flags if you briefly mention:

My children and I were caught up in the events of this natural disaster in this year, and lost two close family members. Following our struggle to come to terms with our own grief, the inspiration to write a story dealing with the aftermath of such devastating natural disasters was born.

Or maybe:

After a losing three members of my extended family within one year, I witnessed my children's bewilderment and their attempts to make sense of their loss, and felt compelled to explore these topics in my book...

On the other hand, if your story is really strong and has a compelling premise of it's own? It is probably unncessary to mention the background at all. That doesn't mean it's VERBOTEN, but just that it's not likely to influence the editor or agent's decision to request your work either way. What always counts the most is the work itself.

Ultimately the decision on how much and what to share is up to you.

I hope this helps! I wish you the best of good luck with your query and your journey to publication.

Friday, 16 March 2018

SUPER MEGA SECRET BOOK DEAL ANNOUNCEMENT!

At last! At long, long last! At laaaaaaast!!! *Maniacal laughter*


Ahem. Yes, that's right Dear Readers! The very exciting news I have been teasing you with basically forever (don't hate me!) is now finally mine to reveal! And incidentally when I said 'very exciting' I actually meant THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER. Here's the official press release: 

Walker Books acquires a new YA fantasy novel The Hand, the Eye and the Heart from Zoë Marriott 

Marriott’s new YA explores themes of gender fluidity in a fantasy setting 
 

Walker Books are delighted to announce the acquisition of The Hand, the Eye and the Heart, a new YA novel from award-winning British author Zoë Marriott. Commissioning editor Annalie Grainger acquired world rights in all languages from Nancy Miles at Miles Stott Children’s Literary Agency. Zoë Marriott is the author of many critically acclaimed and beloved books, often inspired by myths and fairy tales, including The Swan Kingdom, which was longlisted for the Branford Boase award. Shadows on the Moon won the prestigious Sasakawa Prize and was an American Junior Library Guild Selection. The book will publish in Spring 2019.

In the tradition of bestselling and beloved writers like Tamora Pierce and Ursula Le Guin, The Hand, the Eye and the Heart is a rich and lavishly detailed YA fantasy that draws on explorations of gender fluidity and identity. Zhilan was designated female at birth. Marriage and children are the future, not war. But when a warrior rebel begins to ravage the empire and threatens Zhilan's family, they are determined to fight. The only choice is to dress as a boy and to take on a boy's name: Hua Zhi. In a world where love and betrayal are two sides of the same smile, danger lurks everywhere, and Zhi might be the only one who can save the Emperor ... but only if they can save themselves first.

Annalie Grainger said:

“Zoë is such a talented writer. Her books are always intricately plotted and beautifully written, and they draw on such complex pertinent themes, all within diverse and well-constructed worlds. Her latest builds upon this powerful legacy of diverse stories. Its world-building is glorious and the exploration of gender fluidity is important and sensitively handled.”

For more information, please contact Publicity Manager Rosi Crawley on
rosi.crawley@walker.co.uk

Tl:dr: My new book is coming out from Walker Books next year, and it is a high fantasy called The Hand, the Eye and the Heart.

For more details about the journey of writing this book and the challenges it brought, you can read my post HONESTY IS A DANGEROUS POLICY.

Bringing The Hand, the Eye and the Heart into the world was not easy. It was, in fact, dangerous. And uncomfortable and frightening. The fact that it exists anyway is testament to the support and vision of The Royal Literary Fund and Arts Council England, both of whom believed in me and helped buy me the time (over two years) required to research and write this book.

And of course, a massive thanks are also due to the steadfastness of Super Agent, whose regular doses of encouragment and good sense helped pull me out of periods of hopelessness more times than I imagine she ever realised.

Time for a little Q&A!

Q: Is it true this book is a retelling of 'Mulan'?

A: Not exactly. It isn't a direct retelling of any one story. It is heavily inspired by several different versions of the Ballad of Mulan - including the original poem and many subsequent, ever-evolving retellings within Chinese culture such as the Chinese Opera. But the main character of The Hand, the Eye and the Heart is not Mulan. The protagonist of this book is Zhi. It's really important to me that this is clear, because Mulan is such a revered and significant figure and I'm not seeking to mess with her. So I'm not claiming to retell 'the true story of Mulan' or anything sensational like that. Zhi's journey definitely echoes Mulan's in some ways - but that is about paying homage to a legendary heroic archetype, not subverting or revising Mulan's story.

Q: Is the book set in China?

A: It's set in an imaginary place called The Land of Dragons or the Red Empire. This (again) is heavily influenced by Chinese history, especially the Tang Dynasty - but only in the same way that, say, George R. R. Martin's Westeros is influenced by England in the Middle Ages. It is not intended to be a historically accurate portrayal of China. It's a fantasy. There's magic and all kinds of made up people and places and events, as well as many people and places and events which take history as a jumping off point for fantastical extrapolation. The Big Bad, for example, is a mixture of a bandit King referred to in one version of Mulan's story (a man called Leopard Skin) and a real general who rebelled against the Emperor during the Tang Dynasty.

Q: So is the main character really trans?


A: I think of their gender identity as falling under that umbrella, and wrote them with the intention of presenting them to my readers that way - personally, I believe Zhi to be what contemporary westerners would probably call gender fluid or maybe, more broadly, non-binary. But readers are free to interpret the character's gender in any way they like (so long as they don't try to say that they're cis! Definitely not cis).

Q: Did you have sensitivity readers who were Chinese or trans?

A: I've been lucky enough to have advice from two trans people at different stages. One was a young reader who reached out to me through my blog and offered his help right from the start. The other is a dear friend and fellow writer who read the 'finished' version (although it's not really finished yet). I've tried my absolute best to act on and incorporate every comment or suggestion that both of them made. I also had really valuable help and advice from several readers (and friends and family members of readers) of Chinese and East Asian heritage. I'm hoping that the book will get more feedback and more opportunities to be improved before publication.


Q: Is it true that you're an LGBTQA+ writer? Are you trans?

A: I identify as queer, yes. But I don't really think that writers should have to offer up a list of their marginalised identities on demand as part of discussion of their work, so even though I'm happy to talk about my queerness at other times, I'd prefer not to go into it now. I will say that the book is not #ownvoices.


Q: When exactly is the book out? 

A: Spring 2019! Can't be more exact than that at this point, sorry.


Q: When can we see the cover?

A: I don't know - but you can bet your sweet bippy I'll post it here the millisecond I'm allowed to. It doesn't actually exist yet. They're working on it. Honest.

Q: Can we read some of it?

A: I'm still revising it with my editor. When she's happy and it's copy-edited they might let me post some extracts, or maybe a free sample will go up somewhere. I will ask, I promise. I'm excited to share it with you.

Q: Is this the never-ending manuscript that just keeps getting longer that you're always moaning about on Twitter?

A: Er...yes.


Q: How long is this thing anyway?

A: Currently? I mean, it's hard to really say, we're still editing so...

Q: Just spit it out!

A: It's a bit over 100k, all right? That might come down. Or it might go up. I don't know, I'm just the writer. Anyway, it's in the same general length bracket as
Shadows on the Moon

Other stuff that might be of interest! Some aesthetics I made on Twitter the other day and the Spotify playlist for the book. Also, some of you may remember that this book has been referred to (even in the tags of this post) as Codename: DTH. That's because the book's working title was 'Deceive the Heavens', which is a quotation from Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

That's all for today, muffins! Feel free to toss any more questions in the comments - I'm interested to hear what you think!

Friday, 23 February 2018

TALES FROM THE TRUNK

Hello, lovely readers! A new post for you today - TALES FROM THE TRUNK - over on Author Allsorts, on how (not) to deal with rejection once you've been published. This involves the story of my very first novel, which became my third novel, which became, eventually, the Giant Killer Clockwork Praying Mantis Death Robot book. And the reason that there was a two year gap between the publication of Daughter of the Flames and Shadows on the Moon.

Check it out!


Monday, 12 February 2018

TWO POSTS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!

Hello and happy February Dear Readers! Happy Chinese New Year to any readers who celebrate it as well.

Today you get two posts for the price of one, although both of them are hosted over on other sites. Please do click through to check them out and share them if you like them.

The first is 'Away With The Fairies: Living Between Two Worlds' which is on the Royal Literary Fund's Collection Showcase. This is a light-hearted piece which goes into the effect of living an imaginative and creative life on the way that others may perceive you.

The second is rather less light-hearted (I did try, but the piece just didn't want to go that way) called 'White Noise' over on the Author Allsorts site. This is the story of how I went from an author who craved peace and solitude to one who is delighted to work in busy places surrounded by others.

In other news I'm still working on my watery-themed fairytale retelling and have finally chucked everyone right into the sea, by way of wrecking their ship, hurray! Yes, this is a cause for celebration. Shut up.

As before, I do have more exciting news to share, but the wheels of publishing grind exceedingly slow, and it's an author's lot to keep their mouth firmly shut. However, here's a shot of me working in my local coffee place a couple of weeks ago when something rather lovely turned up in my inbox:


Hopefully you will feel this level of delight when I can finally talk about it!

You'll notice my hair's finally growing out, by the way. What do you think, should I go back to shoulder length or maybe try something even more drastic and revisit the bob from 2007? Let me know what you think!

Take care and read you later, lovelies.

Monday, 22 January 2018

IT'S A MYSTERY

Hello, lovely readers! Long time no read and so on - very sorry about that. I can't really promise to do better in future, since having a job with regular office hours and a lengthy commute by train is definitely having an impact on the amount of spare time and brain power that I have for blogging. At least, if I want to get any actual-book-writing done (which hopefully most of you would prefer I focus on).

There is cool and exciting news that I ought to be able to share in the foreseeable future, but for now I have to keep totally quiet about on pain of getting a sorrowful and disappointed email from my agent or editor, or both. So in the meantime I thought this post - which was inspired by a tweet that turned out to be unexpectedly popular - might be amusing.

I'm currently working on my tenth novel since becoming a published writer (probably around the twelfth or thirteenth one if we're counting the ones that will reside forever in a drawer in my desk). This book is uncontracted so I can't really talk about it, except to say that it's got selkies and sea magic in it. Now get a load of this:

I have written and discarded no less than six different opening chapters for this book.

That's around 12,000 words of work that I earnestly poured my effort into and which now grace the recycle bin.

I have never, ever had to do this before - not for any other book I've written.

Let no writer convince you, my muffins, that they know how to write a book. In fact, one of the biggest differences I've noticed between the fresh and dewy just-starting-out unpublished or debut writers and the ones like me who've been hacking away at the literary undergrowth for a decade or so is that us professional hackers will admit we're never going to to figure out this writing malarkey. If a pro-writer tries to tell you that they've figured out a reliable formula for creating a book, then I can 100% assure you that they're trying to sell you something, and the something will be a book. Usually a book with the words 'How to', 'Bestseller', 'Secret' and 'Novel' in the title.

I mean, buy it anyway, if it looks fun, but don't be fooled. How To Write Any Kind of Book At All: It's A Complete Mystery To Me, I Don't Know What to Tell You is what the title ought to be.

And just to illustrate this point, here are the six discarded opening lines of my tenth manuscript, in no particular order:

1) "I always loved the water."

2) "It starts with the taste of apples, sweet and acidic, on the back of my tongue."


3) "I inhaled in as the Whisperers had taught me, slowly and deeply – one, two, three, four, five – and tried to ignore the stench of goats." 

4) "I was born Her Royal Highness Theoai Herim, the Golden One, eldest daughter of Queen Theoan, and Crown Princess of Yamarr."

5)  "Segemassa lay quietly beneath the sharp ivory horns of the rising Warrior’s moon."

6) "The sea voyage to my new home took nearly eight weeks."

And now I'm onto the seventh, which I shan't share because I have a superstitious fear that will jinx it. Wish me luck with this one, darlings!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS: Part Three

Hello, Dear Readers! This is the third and final part of the Turning Ideas into Plots workshop.

The last instalment introduced us to the basic plot diagram, like so:

Hopefully at this point you have enough solid story events fixed in your head to be able to fill in two or three of the points on the diagram, even if in quite a basic way. This, in turn, ought to give you a sense of the shape and pacing of the events you still need to devise. You have, effectively, the skeleton of a plot. Possibly when people ask what you're writing about, you can give them a brief summing up which touches on those main plot points, and they go 'Wow, sounds interesting'. 

But you still don't have a story.

What? After all that??? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, plot and story are not exactly the same thing. Plot is the skeleton. Story is the flesh. It’s the muscles and tendons and skin that cover and fill in the gaps between the bones. Without the story, like bones without tendons and muscles, the plot can’t move. It’s useless.

This where that saying I mentioned in Part #1 comes from: ideas are ten-a-penny, but execution is key. The execution of the story, the way you put those muscles together and use them to animate the skeleton, the texture of the skin you cover the whole thing with, that’s what turns your story either into a beautiful, vibrant, living creature – or a hulking, mouth-breathing Frankenstein's Monster. 

To illustrate this, let's take a look at a story that we all know well: Cinderella.

It's fairly easy for anyone to see how the main points of Cinderella's story would fit onto the plot diagram I showed you. Hence:
However, each of the sides of the diamond shape now need to be filled in with story – with the events which logically follow from First Plot Event to Character Action to Major Disaster and so on.

And here’s the fun yet terrifying (yet fun!) part: if you and I were both to start out with that basic plot diagram above? We would, inevitably, come up with two radically different ways to get our heroine from point one to point two and onto point three, etc. Our different versions would encompass not only different events, but different tones in our writing, and different character motivations. That's why this diagram is useful on its own, even if you don't want to fill in anymore details – because it gives you that structure, that framework, within which to let your own unique ideas develop.

The way I normally work this out is to try and fill in the first side of the diamond in as much detail as possible before I start writing. Then I put in whatever details I can think of on the other sides. Like so:

Although I like to know in detail what events I'm aiming for, when it comes down to how to actually realise those events, the atmosphere and tone and the character arcs which weave in and around them, I like the freedom to make it all up as I go along. And usually I find that by the time in my first draft I've reached point two (Character Action) I've grown to know the world, story and characters well enough to be able to go on ahead and fill in the next side with a few more details too. The story teaches me about it as I go on. By the time I hit the halfway point I've got something that looks like this:

This is a story now, not just a plot. It includes scenes not just of action but reaction. It shows you the events I (as the author of this particular Cinderella retelling) think are significant enough to dramatise (lots of emphasis on the magic) how I'm going to handle the romance (love at first sight) ideas about the of emotional significance of events (Cinderella calls to the spirit of her death mother before the fairy appears - could it really BE the ghost of her mother?) and it makes you ask questions, rather than offering up a bare list of events.

The way you chose to write these events – in a grim, gothic style, a funny irreverent one, or a poetic lyrical one – will be the skin of your story. The outer appearance which people will probably react to first and with the most conviction, just as humans react to the colour and form of other people's outer shell in real life. But without the plot skeleton and the muscle, flesh and blood of the story underneath, the skin is worthless. All the bits of the story's anatomy need to be working together to create the impression you, the writer, want the reader to receive.

So, this is how *I* turn ideas into plots, and then a plot into a story. I hope it's been useful. But remember that the important thing – the only really important thing, in the end – is to work the way that helps you and makes you feel comfortable. Use a circle instead of a diamond. Don't draw at all, if you don't want to! There is no such thing as a 'right way'. Only the way that works for you right now.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS: Part Two

So you've had this idea for a story. 

Chances are the idea is incomplete and actually has a few separate pieces to it. Mostly my ideas – the ones that spark the desire to start a new book – come with a vague sense of how it all starts, a couple of really strong, hit-me-in-the-head scenes that probably fit somewhere in the middle, and then a vague sense of how it ends. Your ideas might come with the beginning perfectly formed and no end, or a perfect end and no middle scenes. But whatever, you have to try and figure out how to fit these events together into a plot. How to bridge the gaps between them in a way that makes sense, that is entertaining to read, that is worth writing.

At this stage, some authors recommend making character or story collages, where you get yourself a huge pile of magazines and cut out any images - of people or locations or phrases - that 'sing' to you, as being something to do with your idea. You stick them all to a big sheet of paper and somehow seeing everything like that acts like a giant magnet for other ideas to start zipping out of your brain and attaching themselves to the original idea.

Some writers like to use index cards or bullet points to list everything that they know about characters, setting, story, mood. They find that as they write these down, more and more details materialise in their heads, until their bullet point list is twice as long, or their stack of cards twice as thick as they expected.

I think the really important thing at this point is to PIN THOSE SUCKERS DOWN. Otherwise tiny details can sometimes slither away from you and it's really hard to get them back. What's more, the very act of writing down your ideas makes them feel more concrete and get-at-able. Often as you begin to write them they will expand right there on the page before your eyes, drawing other ideas from your subconscious and weaving them in, until your snippet of an argument suddenly has three compelling characters, or your image of a setting has a tragic situation and two more settings nested within. It’s magic!

So, now you have a whole *bunch* of exciting ideas, loosely linked, that makes your gizzards positively tingle with excitement. Great! Well done. Now for the bad news: this scatter of ideas still doesn't actually make a plot.

A plot needs to be more than a series of events that happen one after another. There needs to be a shape, rising tension, rising stakes. The story needs to move through events of physical and emotional and mental significance (if it's going to be a really good book, I mean). Sometimes when you've pinned all your ideas down you still won't feel you have enough stuff to make a story. Other times it all looks like way too much.

This is where my diagrams come in. Tada!

A disclaimer here: this is the way *I* think of plots. You might like a square, or a circle, or a list, or a corkboard covered in neat lines of post-its. But fitting my puzzle pieces into this shape works for me. You might find that although following this exact method does not fit for you, trying it shows you the way you DO like to work. Anyway, let me 'splain. 

FIRST PLOT EVENT: This is pretty self-evident. It's the event that kicks off the story proper. It might not be the first thing the reader sees, though. Sometimes a story starts off by showing the character's world, illustrating the most important characters in their life or establishing their ambitions or deepest wishes. Leading up to a dramatic or significant event – as in The Fellowship of the Ring, where we're introduced to the idyllic Shire and Frodo's well-hidden longing for adventure – allows us to understand what is at stake for the protagonist when the first plot event occurs.

Some writing books will tell you that you must cut straight to the action. And for some genres or some particular stories, that’s OK to do. But it’s not vital, and there are many books which do no such thing. What is vital is that you begin with something RELEVANT to the story, something which will show its significance when you light the fuse and let the plot explode. 

CHARACTER TAKES ACTION TO CHANGE COURSE OF PLOT: A little more tricky, this one. Usually, after the first major story event the character will react with shock, fear, disbelief. They might refuse to accept what's happened, struggle desperately to get away from the new character or place that is threatening their normality. However at some point most characters that are strong enough to be a main character will get a grip and attempt to take control of their situation. Sometimes it backfires, sometimes it works but triggers further events.

In any case, this is the moment when the character first begins to truly affect the plot and it's usually an important moment in the story. Using The Fellowship of the Ring again, this is moment when Frodo, having reached the safety of the Rivendell, and having been given a viable chance to step out of this life-or-death adventure, instead steps forward and volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor. 

MAJOR DISASTER OR SETBACK: The events triggered by the interaction of the main character's choices and the plot now reach a critical point. Things might seem to be going really well – but at the moment when success seems assured, disaster strikes and changes the course of the story again. Often the reader will have seen this setback coming all along. Sometimes even the characters can see it. But they're powerless to prevent it, either because of an essential flaw in their own character or strategy (established prior to this, of course) or because the forces of opposition are overwhelming.

For example, in Disney's The Little Mermaid, this is where Ursula the Sea Witch sees that Ariel and the Prince are falling in love, realises her plan isn’t going to work, and casts a spell to enchant the Prince and make her his own. Ariel wakes up full of joy, goes running off to see her Prince, and finds him suddenly engaged to another woman. Noooooo!  

THE PLATEAU OF AWFULNESS: I read this term in a writing book and it's stuck with me. This is when, in the midst of the fallout from that great disaster, something even worse (and often contrasting to the main disaster) happens. It's the part of the story where things literally cannot get any worse. There's no way back. It's do or die. Think back to the events at the end of The Matrix, where most of the crew of the ship have been slaughtered by a traitor and Neo is stuck in the Matrix fighting (and losing) against Agent Smith. Then the alarm on the ship goes off: a killer 'squid' is approaching. It starts ripping the ship apart and the only way the crew can save themselves is to set off the EMP. But if they do that, Neo will die.

The attack of the killer machine contrasts beautifully with the main disaster – Neo's battle against the Agent – because while Neo is a blur of action, running and fighting for his life, the crew are forced into stillness, silence and inaction, waiting for Neo to get out of Matrix, unable to fight for their own lives. All their hopes rest with him. In some stories the PoA might be emotional in contrast to an action Major Setback. In others it might be a new attack, but from an unexpected direction. In books which are totally on their game, it could be about both action and emotion. The important thing is that this is where the character is forced to throw everything they have at the obstacles that face them. Their last hope has gone. In despair, fury, new determination or sudden revelation, they are now propelled forward to the final events of the story. 

LAST PLOT EVENT: Hang on a minute, you say! There are only FOUR points on that diamond! How can there be five points on your list? Well, the last plot event is where everything comes full circle. It's where you fulfil the promises that you made to the reader at the beginning and the story comes to a natural close. Just like with the last plot event, this might not be the actual last scene, but it's the last point in the story where events are still in flux. Further chapters may tie up loose ends, but shouldn't significantly alter what has occurred in the last plot event. This is the scene where Trinity kisses an unconscious Neo and tells him that she loves him – and he responds by proving he is The One and destroying Agent Smith at the same moment that Morpheus presses the EMP button and kills the squid that is tearing the ship apart. It's when when Triton takes pity on his daughter and transforms her into a human for good and she is reuinited with Prince Eric.

Now, as I said above, not all stories are going to fit into this exact pattern – and that is fine! – but it's a good place to start. The simple structure makes it very easy to see how events you might already have in mind should be spaced out, and again, the act of placing the ideas you do have in this form can often draw other ideas out of your subconscious as you realise that if there’s a Plateau of Awfulness here, then surely the best event to follow it would be this or this... See if the events you have in your head fit these definitions in any sense. Perhaps the scenes you've got are the lead-ins or sequels to such events? 

Open your mind to the most interesting ways that things could play out. If you can fill in three or four of the points on the diagram, even if it turns out you have three Major Setbacks and two PoAs, you're well on your way to having a complete story. And if in the process you realise that diagramming works better for you if you break your story down into six main plot events, or that you prefer a circle, or a line of Post-Its, then hurray! You’re already beginning to discover your own individual plotting style.

Stay tuned to this bat channel for the next instalment of our exciting (look, *I* find it exciting, OK?) plotting workshop, in which we shall discuss no less a person than Cinderella and there will be many more diagrams (yay!).
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