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Reaching for a plot with Lee Child

My fellow writers have long intrigued me with the methods they use for creating the plot-lines of their novels.

It is especially fascinating because my own means of devising a plot is probably best described as “let it happen” and I’ll follow along behind.

My characters lead me; I don’t lead them or even tell them what they should be doing next.

This is of course in total contrast to so much of what is contained in the plethora of How To books and guides. There is probably even a Dummies’ Guide to Plotting – although any such tome might well be intended for budding Machiavellis rather than latent novelists.

Writing courses at our colleges and institutes also place heavy stress on the importance of plotting.

It was therefore fascinating to read a review of Reacher Said Nothing (Bantam Press) in which Andy Martin recounts his time spent observating master thriller writer Lee Child as he wrote his latest book, Make Me, his twentieth featuring his hero sleuth Jack Reacher.

The most telling moment is when, after five and a half months of writing and with 44,695 words behind him, Lee Child said he had only then begun “to work out what the hell was going on”.

How well I know that feeling; and how satisfying it is to hear it from such a master of the craft and to know I’m not alone. Throughout three crime novels and with a fourth close to completion my “method” has been to follow my characters wherever they may lead.

When they get a surprise, so do I. There is no plotting to have them open a door and discover a body within. Their surprise is my surprise  for there has been no pre-planning on my part.

I am in awe of fellow writers who have whiteboards crammed with names, places, pictures, maps even – all linked by a maze of lines that look more complex than a map of the London Underground.

And there are others who are forever scribbling plot-lines into notebooks or littering their offices with Post-It notes to remind themselves where next to take their hero/ine or dispose of another body.

Maybe it’s the wrong way to go about things but at least writing becomes a succession of regular surprises rather than a coolly calculated process written to a preconceived formula.

If it’s good enough for Lee (and Jack) then it’s good enough for me (and Bromo).


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