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C.C. Hogan

The Joy of losing the plot

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Sometimes a secondary story just screams at you: Write Me!

Whatever the publicists tell you, writing should always be primarily selfish - if you are not writing for yourself, then what is the point?

Part of my fun is letting myself fall into the trap of a sub-plot or an aside;  a little journey away from the main thrust.  And it seems that the longer the book, the opportunities for wandering off track not only increase, but sit there waving at you, enticing you with promises of adventure and distraction!

Is falling for temptation such a bad thing?

Well, probably, but that is not going to stop me from doing it!

As I have mentioned before I am writing a huge, word-gobbling fantasy called Dirt (website coming soon, I hope.)  The story stretches over more than ten books and takes place over a thousand years on an invented world called Dirt.

When you create a story so long and so complex, you inevitably end up with a lot of characters and, more to the point, several main characters.  I like my characters to have lives; I want them to feel pain, hope, have fun, fall in love, fall out of love, get angry, get adventurous, want to run away and the rest.  Of course I want them to do this with the confines of my story, but I don't want to limit them so much that we forget that their life is more than the sum of my plot.

Enter the sub-plot.

Or in my case,  a short story inserted within the main narrative.  Now, I am probably going to be shouted at since this is probably a terrible thing to do and when my book comes out eventually, there will be reviewers out there who say "how dare he lose the plot!"

But, I like losing the plot, it is fun, it opens up narrative angles that I otherwise would not be able to enjoy and it adds dimensions not just to the characters, but to the world and, rather more subtly, the main plot.  

No, I am not really losing it, I am adding layers! Well, that's my excuse.

For instance, and without spoiling anything in advance, I have a character who has been short of love for sometime and I really ought to do something  for the poor girl.  My main plot requires someone to discover information about the baddies plans that will inform how the next part of the plot works.  So, I need a couple of people to go off on a spying mission.

I could easily start a chapter as the characters break into a house or something and find an all important note, then have to escape the danger and rush back to their base.  That would work, I can put in a lot of action and adventure and the plot would tick on happily.  

Or, I could play a game.  I can take my main character and put her with another character that she rather likes.  I can decide that finding out information is going to be complicated and they are going to spend a lot of time with each other, cut off from the rest of the goodies.  They are going to have to travel a lot, be independant, make their own decisions and get out of trouble.  I can get one of them injured so the other has to look after them, bandage them up, get them to a remote place of safety and spend time alone with them.

And, I can get them to fall in love.

Suddenly, I have a story in its own right.  If I am clever, as part of that story I can reveal little elements that feed back into the main plot, I can expose emotions, opinions and feelings that might affect how these characters react when they return to the central narrative, as well as finding out the secret information that I needed them to find in the first place.

More importantly, for me as a writer, I can change pace, step back from the main thrust, and I can examine my world and story through different eyes.

Of course, I could do all that in a couple of paragraphs, well, more or less.  Or I could be completely selfish and do it over several chapters.

But isn't that all wrong?  Isn't that breaking the rules?

Possibly, but it is also a lot of fun and can be very enriching.   It is like the long TV series that suddenly decides to throw in a rogue episode.  Think of ER spending an entire episode over the death of Doctor Green or CSI dedicating two episodes to a story directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Suddenly, they not only ignored the rest of the world for a moment, but they changed style, changed ideas, and, in the process, gave the fans a real little treat.

This fantasy wot I am writing, is long - not just in words but the story itself is long and complex.  More importantly, the world is complicated and the character's lives are far from simple.  These asides, selfish as they are, allow me to not only bring more of the world to the reader, but also allow me as the writer to get closer to my inventions, my people, and to give myself a real little treat, a couple of chapters or so where the rest of the world and story can get on with their thing uninterrupted and I can concentrate on just one or two people.

At this stage with the books unpublished, I have to say I am probably taking a risk,  but I also believe that readers are intelligent people that understand that characters are sometimes far more complicated than can be accommodated for in the main plot and will enjoy these little journeys and be able to return to the central strand refreshed and ready to face the next world shattering battle.

I know I do!


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