Starting on Friday 11 January, two blog posts go up each week across four weeks on crime writing blogs within the community. As well as providing a fascinating insight into Louise and Mark’s writing relationship, their inspiration for writing All Fall Down, life in a cult and killer viruses, each post contains a clue. To find the clue, simply read the blog post and answer a question – the answer to which will be in the post itself. Once you have collected all ten clues, send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your name and address, and you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win a brand new Kindle Fire! Three lucky runners up will win a signed copy of Catch Your Death and All Fall Down. The deadline for entering is 28 February 2013, and the winner will be revealed on 4 March.
Some people make a lot of money telling writers how to construct a plot. There are endless courses and books that will tell you all about ‘the hero’s journey’, ‘calls to adventure’, ‘crossing the first threshold’, etc, etc. This reduces writing fiction – whether it’s books or films – down to a strict formula. My advice is to spend a little time (a couple of hours, maybe) reading over some of that stuff…and then forget all about it.
For me, by far the best way to learn how to plot is to read lots and lots of good books. Seek out the classics in your genre and read them twice – once for pleasure, and to absorb the story; the second time to see how they did it. As a writer, you should be doing this all the time – not necessarily reading books twice, but just reading. I have met writers who say they never read – or struggle to name any favourite writers or novels – which I find incredible. For me, the best way to learn is to do: to read and write as much as possible.
When Louise and I wrote our first novel, Killing Cupid, our approach to plotting was flimsy to say the least. We didn’t, at any point, write a plan. We simply made it up as we went along, chapter by chapter. I don’t recommend this ‘writing by the seat of your pants’ approach, but with this particular book, it worked. (Well enough for Peter James to declare it his book of 2012.)
Catch Your Death had more of a plan, but it was a very loose one. We worked out most of the story arc, and the backstory, and then set our characters free. But we worked out the details of how Kate and Paul uncovered the mystery of what happened to her as we went along. We didn’t even know about the big twist at the end until we wrote it, which was one of those moments of being able to surprise the reader because you are surprising yourself.
Some writers, like the excellent Jeffrey Deaver, work out everything before they start: every scene, every chapter. Only when they know exactly what is going to happen, and when, do they actually start to write. I used to think that I would find this method of writing very boring. Surely all the fun would be in the plotting, and the writing itself would feel like a chore, but Louise and I are moving more towards this style of writing.
All Fall Down was plotted out in chunks. We started out by writing a two-page synopsis that described the whole book – but where the details of the latter two-thirds of the book were shrouded in mist. We then set about writing it in what has now become our customary way – all completely out of order. So I might be working on chapter 15 while Louise was writing chapter 8. We needed to get certain key scenes down before we could work out how it all fitted together.
You could boil the fundamental plot of All Fall Down to a few sentences: Heroine receives her call to adventure when she is told she is needed to help find a cure to a deadly virus that has broken out; she overcomes numerous obstacles that are thrown in her way, mostly by a group of crazed women who want to bring about the end of the world; she eventually… well, I don’t want to give anything away! It sounds simple, but in order to create an exciting read, the danger needed to be immense, the obstacles seemingly insurmountable. There needed to be mystery and intrigue, the race to understand the virus and the quest to find a cure, which needed to be complicated but not so complex that the reader would get lost.
We had at least three strands to the narrative, to make it even more difficult to work out: Kate in her lab (and later… well, that would be telling); Paul travelling around trying to find answers; and Kate’s son Jack setting out on a crazy road trip and heading into the heart of danger. On top of this, we had our baddies, with their own deadly plot.
Once we had got to the end, we realized that large parts of the novel needed to be rewritten. A whole section of the book was erased and a new one added in. This was a logistical nightmare. Whenever we changed one element of the story, it had a ripple effect across the rest of the book. We spent weeks combing through the text trying to make sure that everything made sense. Sometimes, I would wake up in the night thinking ‘Hang on!’
In this age of instant reader feedback – via Amazon reviews and blogs – it’s easy for the writer to be aware of things readers hate, so we were constantly asking ourselves questions as we went along. Is this plausible? Does the internal logic of the novel work? Readers hate coincidence. They also hate it when things appear contrived. They don’t want the resolution to be too easy. When you are writing about something that has never happened in the real world, keeping your story plausible can be challenging to say the least.
Readers will also mark you down if they guess the ending or find the whole thing predictable. As most thriller fans have read dozens, in not hundreds, of novels in the genre, and have all the plots of those books and all the films they’ve seen etched on their memories, keeping it surprising can be difficult too. But it’s absolutely vital. A thriller without twists and surprises – that doesn’t make sense or tricks the reader – is not thrilling at all. We tried to ensure that we avoided all the things readers hate, and serve up all the things they love when writing All Fall Down.
You’ll have to read it to find out if we succeeded…
‘Which thriller writer plots out every scene in advance?’
For further information on how the Treasure Hunt works, visit Killer Reads here.
The next post can be found on Friday 18 January at Random Jottings.