Hello everybody! Today, I’m so excited to be part of the blog tour for the Bad Luck Lighthouse, with a brilliant guest post from its author about plotting. Onto the post!
Plot or not to Plot?
To write mystery stories you surely must plot it all out in advance?
Well, actually I’m struggling to find anyone who plots much in advance. I was even heartened to listen to a talk recently by a really brilliant spy writer, who writes the most complicated stories – and to learn that even he doesn’t plot beforehand. I find getting all the details of the plot probably the most difficult thing, so I kind of have to build up to that. And I think however you write, it’s mostly a matter of finding a method that works for you and just sticking to it!
So my first idea is always a single scene, an image of something that intrigues me. I know who is in this scene and I want to ask myself a lot of questions about it. How did they all get here? What they are all doing here? What is really going on? Why is this important to the people here?
I usually focus on atmosphere and character, but if I find myself thinking about this a lot, I know there will be a plot there somewhere for me to find. The first image I had for The Bad Luck Lighthouse was of shadows. I knew that there would be a murder! I knew that the question of the big puzzle that needed to be solved was between: is it something supernatural/something magical/some deliberate plan (to make it look like one of the first two)? At this stage I start to write things down and I try to impose a structure on a load of random bits thrown into one document, which then grows into a plot plan. The first scene that kicks everything off in my head is often a scene that turns out to be from the end of the story. I start with the scenes I’m most confident about and keep adding in bits and pieces. Because I know the end, I have to find a way to lead up to this so that the reader knows why it’s so crucial when they get there.
I really struggle with beginnings. I know at least a few things I definitely want to happen, but I am usually wrong about where in the story they are going to arrive. I end up with half a really long synopsis and half a first draft, which is basically a promise of what I think is most likely to happen. I call this Draft Zero – which is basically a confidence document that I do actually have a story – and I just try to keep on going with all these random bits until I get to the end.
As I get closer and closer to the really crucial bit of how everything is going to tie up, I start to panic as this is always still a huge blank. This typically results in sleepless nights about three-quarters of the way through.
Meanwhile, I just keep adding to the bits I do know. I try to be really strict with myself and not go back and edit, but often I can’t stop myself. Some bits grow and even get quite polished, particularly if I’m really stumped about what my characters are going to do next.
When I finally make it past that awful bit three-quarters of the way through and I discover what’s actually going to happen, I just basically go back to the beginning and write a first draft. I have to get to the end, because it’s the plot I both enjoy and struggle with and once the plot is there I can breathe and start to enjoy myself.
Often I discover that all I have left for myself is a one-line idea about what happens. It’s like finding a clue and realising all the hard work still needs to be done – and I blame my earlier self for doing a bad job.
But then, just occasionally, I discover some really heavenly detailed scenes, where I really knew exactly what I wanted to happen and I even quite like the writing. And that’s like finding a treat. And by my second draft, I can pretend this was exactly how I planned everything to be all along.
THE BAD LUCK LIGHTHOUSE – sequel to Nicki’s bestselling debut THE LAST CHANCE HOTEL – is out now, priced £6.99. Connect with Nicki on Twitter: @nicki_thornton
Are you planning to pick this book up? What are your thoughts on it if you already have? I’d love to hear in the comments!