Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Learning from my mistakes: The Earthquake Plot

It's been eight weeks since I received my NWS report on my manuscript. Rather than ploughing straight back in to re-writes I decided to take some time to digest the feedback I've received.

I wanted to spend about six weeks away from this WIP to give me some distance and hopefully more objectivity. My report came back very quickly, which was great. It meant I took my break but with specific areas to work on. I've read up on this subjects, studied suggested authors and am returning to my WIP with a knowledge of where I went wrong and the hope I will be able to learn from these mistakes.

As part of this process (and in writing this blog) I'm beginning to realise I'm quite a visual person. I seem to understand things much better if I can visualise the problem. One of my mistakes was what I have dubbed creating 'The Earthquake Plot.'

In my report the reader said - 'the story relied on external events.'

It may sound silly, but I hadn't even realised. When I was blindly writing just to get to the point it was done, I knew I needed pace so events occurred to inject pace - right? Wrong. Yes, it injected pace but it didn't endear the reader to the story and it was covering up more systemic issues.

Those systemic (though not terminal) issues related to characterisation. When I started out I thought I would be able to make it up as I went along. I didn't push myself to create the characters at the beginning, thinking they would carve themselves out as the story unfolded. But they didn't. Not completely and despite finishing the story, the characters did not come out as the well-rounded people they should have become.

At first I wasn't sure why having external events was a problem in the sense that, as they happen in real life, why not in fiction? This is how I've come to understand why it doesn't work:

Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake. Earthquake.

You go to see the movie called Earthquake. You expect there will be said earthquake in movie. The whole movie is just a series of earthquakes. Hmm... no story in that. More of a documentary without the Attenborough voiceover.

Earthquake. Characters react to earthquake. Make decisions about their present situation based on experience from their past. 

A much better film. Okay, there is still an external event at the beginning but the story lies in how the characters react.

Using this rather silly example has made me realise the difference between internal and external story. For characterisation to be successful, the story needs to come from within character. Otherwise it's just a series of events.

I'm glad to say my WIP isn't all earthquakes but I now know what the reader meant by external events and how that affects story. Characterisation and re-plotting in progress and re-write to commence this week.


  1. Good luck with your re-write. I think a good story has to have both external events and internal conflicts to make an entertaining read though. If nothing happened to them and they were just wrapped up in internal angst and turmoil it would also be a bit dull and probably depressing! Different reactions to external events is always a winner - I like internal wranglings of the heart AND action. I'm sure it's going to be fab xx

  2. Thank you, Mandy. You're right, it does need both but in this case I angled more towards external without thinking enough about characterisation. Main character didn't lead the story, external events did. But no so badly that it can't be sorted out! xx

  3. I suppose external events are a bit like co-incidences. We all know they happen, they happen to us every day (maybe not actual *earthquakes* but you know what I mean), but in fiction they can come off as a little bit too 'plot convenient'. I actually like a few external events to shake the characters up a bit, just as long as the story doesn't degenerate into 'event-reaction' on the characters' parts, and I'm sure your story can be easily redone to take account of your reader's comments. Best of luck (lots of chocolate helps...)

  4. Thank you, Jane. They weren't all convenient and certainly wasn't a series of earthquakes but I can see how it can be improved upon. Am back on slimming world. Good job it's a diet that can involve chocolate! xx

  5. Woohoo! That's the spirit. Good for you, Catherine.

    I'm not your Reader, but I read for the NWS and it's great to see a New Writer learning from the experience, taking it to heart and moving on. It's the only way to go.

    I'm quite a new non-new writer and I've just been through an intensive stint with an editor for my first proper 'grown up' book. Even when you've been published you are still learning. And you still think eeeek, when the 'suggestions' come back. And they are right. Funny what you don't see in your own work that is blindingly obvious when someone points it out. I winced and nodded as I read your post. I think it is all part of the show not tell thing as well. And I still haven't learnt that one fully!!!

    Go, girl, go.

    Juliet :)

  6. Thank you for the lovely comment, Juliet. I think the more you learn the less you know. But, will keep learning and keep my fingers crossed. xx

  7. Good luck with the rewrite - it sounds like you have a very definite and positive idea of what you need to change, and that can only be a good thing :)
    I know what one of my flaws is -showing AND telling! The mistress of tautology, me... ;)