Please don’t faint – I am going to use a word never heard in polite literary company. Are you sitting down? Here we go.
Yes, I said, plot.
Don’t look as if I presented you with a disgusting bit of garbage. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I am going to use another word which usually just lurks in the shadows and is never said aloud in literary places.
Writing can be learned. No, you did not mishear that. I did say – learned.
By now you are shaking your head, shouting at the screen, what are you talking about? Don’t you know writing can’t be learned? You either have it or you don’t.
There are things you cannot learn. You cannot teach people to feel with the great intensely of the best writers, or to notice every tiny insignificant detail which will bring any scene alive, or to empathize with all things and understand characters incredibly well. All those things which go into good writing can be encouraged but not learned.
Other things can be taught. Like language.
Language has to be taught. How else did you get the ability to read this?
Back to the bad word.
Writers need to understand plot, however much you may turn you nose up at it. Without plot your writing is so much breakfast mush. If there is a good story, there is a plot. It can be eye- numbingly visible or it can be so slim a thread that it pretends not to be there. Yes, it’s always there.
Let’s put it this way.
It’s easy to write obvious plots, the kind which land in hundred weights on every editor’s desk. Those are easy. The spider silk ones are the hard ones, the invisible ones – they have the steepest learning curve.
And there is a learning curve. Most writers do not begin with plot. First stop is rejection land, where you just write without any idea of what you are doing, and, like a boomerang, it all comes back.
The next stage is critical.
After the heartbreak of your first rejections you can either give up and burn your notebooks, or you can decide to learn the craft.
Some writers will just potter around, picking up bits and pieces of wisdom, but never looking in the shadows where the little four letter word is lurking silently. They will never quite get it right and spend the rest of their career groping, confused, hoping it will work this time.
There is enough of that vain hope going around to be an epidemic.
But there are others, who will get fed up of going in circles and turn around one day to look plot straight in the eye, unblinking. Great writing comes from that small, personal, unseen, soon forgotten, act of courage.
Brace yourself. I will end with the two forgotten words, right there together, companionably in the same sentence.
Plot can be learned. There. I said it and the world did not end.
Plot can be learned and should be learned if you want your stories to flow like silk, like water.
You can learn it by reading the great writers and analyzing their methods, or you can learn it from the books which teach you with examples. Learn it anyway you chose, but learn it.
There. It’s not so bad smelling after all, is it? It’s just been given a bad name – perhaps some were just too lazy to learn it. Whatever.
When you reach the second stage, when you are struggling your way out of rejection land – then you have this choice, learn plot or keep stumbling in the dark.
Don’t say it. I know. You don’t like a word of what I have written. That’s okay.
Chose either way. Chose to be a writer or chose to weigh down some overburdened editors desk, year after year.
The choice is yours. I’d take that dirty four letter word if I were you, and put in the effort to master it. When you know what you are doing writing can actually be fun.