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FICTION ISSUES PLOTPlot is vital to maintain readers’ interest, but how do you create a page turner? Rowan Coleman explainscohesive tale, with perfectly pitched highs and lows,climax and resolution. Cohen says: ‘I plotted out each of the protagonists’ stories separately, making sure they each fitted their own three-act story, writing them separately so I could get the characterisation right’.The Missing by C L Taylor takes readers through a woman’s frantic journey to find out the truth about what happened to her missing son. Here plot and pace become characters of their own. A sense of urgency flows throughout the book, reaching carefully chosen peaks, and allowing the reader one or two ebbs, before the next action sequence begins. Plot entertains, misleads, and invests the reader in what will happen next,intertwining events with razor- sharp atmosphere and tension.Author of post-apocalypse thriller The End of the World Running Club Adrian J Walker has excellent advice: ‘I like to start with a strong ending scene in mind, and whenever I get stuck, I follow Pixar’s ‘Seven Steps of Story’: Once upon a time...; And every day...; Until one day...; And then because of that...; And then because of that...; Until finally; And ever since that day...’.However you choose to approach plot, it pays to remember that your first job asa storyteller is to tell a story, and that the more you strengthen that story with meaningful characterisation, themes and research, the more engaging and fulfilling the finished work will be for you and for your readers.No element of writing fiction ever stands on its own. Each serves the others, and all of them should serve the story: a multitude of brush strokes that make up one cohesive finished work. ❐As an internationally published author and regular tutor at Faber Academy, a large portion of my practical life asa writer revolves around plot: both how to plot my own novels and how to teach the art of and, more importantly, the need for plotting in fiction.At the beginning of every course I tutor, I always ask students how well they know their work in progress. Almost without fail they will be ableto tell me what their idea is about: life, death, love, hate and other similarly sweeping and encompassing themes.When I ask them what happens, they almost always greet me with blank stares. Why? Because they don’t know what happens. They have been too busy thinking about their big ideas to remember that at its heart fiction involves telling a story.Since the dawn of humankind plot has compelled audiencesto stay huddled around a firein the dark, desperate to seehow it all ends. It is the shining silver thread that will draw a reader through your novel. If your characters are the windows to your novel and theme is the roof that keeps the rain out,plot provides the structure, the foundation and the four strong walls that will make a reader willing to trust you with their imagination.First and foremost, things need to happen in novels, and they should start to happen from page one – not sometime around chapter six after the protagonists have made a cup of tea and been to the supermarket. Does that sound patronising? Perhaps it does, but it’s all too easy to pay the least amount of attention to the most integral part of fiction.Of course there are many different ways to make sure a compelling plot is at the heartof your novel. I am a planner, plotting out several different drafts as I go, finding that the more I know the more I amable to improvise and allow inspiration in. Some very successful writers are what are sometimes called ‘pantsers’, plotting by the seat of their pants. Neither way is wrong. You have to find what works for you.Three recently published novels use carefully executed plot lines to explore wider themes. The Darkest Secret byAlex Marwood is an intense psychological novel, examining the motivations and secrets behind the disappearanceof a three-year-old girl. You might expect a fast-paced, high velocity novel, but what youget from Marwood is a much deeper, more engaging story. What she achieves so brilliantly is to remember that plot, characterisation, theme and pace are all inextricably linked. The heart of this novel unravels ata perfect pace, as we are drawn slowly and terrifyingly into the lives of the central characters. As they develop, so does plot, and once we are caught in the webof intrigue, there is no escaping until the shocking conclusion is revealed. Marwood explains that character is essential to how she plots: ‘I may know where I am going, but I have no idea how I’m going to get there until I know who the people are.’Falling by Julie Cohen is a complex and emotional tale about three generations of women, each one facing a turning point in their lives. What makes the plot of this novel so effective and compelling is how three separate storylines interweave into one powerfulROWAN COLEMAN is the internationally bestselling author of 12 novels including The Memory Book and We Are All Made of Stars. She also mentors, and teaches regularly at The Faber Academy.The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood (Sphere) A child disappears from a family celebration involving her rich and powerful parents.A media frenzy follows, but what really happened?Falling by Julie Cohen (Black Swan) Imagine keeping a secret you cannot even tell the people you love. That’s the premise behind this saga of three generations with much to hide.The Missing by C L Taylor (Avon) A dark and gripping psychological thriller that leaves the reader wrong- footed. Revelations and lies within a family show that what we hide can lead to destruction.plot is the shining silver thread that will draw a reader through your novelmslexia Sep/Oct/Nov 2016 67

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