Kevin Brooks Shares a Thing or Two about Plot

I am more than excited to welcome Kevin Brooks to the blog today. He is definitely one of my favourite writers, and I do not say that lightly. Road of the Dead is on my top ten list of books I’m grateful got written. Here’s what he has to say about Plot.

Plot’s a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s absolutely crucial to any novel. It provides its structure, pace, direction. It gives the story its framework, around which everything else is built. It’s the map that guides the reader through the narrative journey. And yet ultimately, when we’ve finished reading a novel, its plot becomes almost redundant. We remember the feeling of the book, the characters, themes, emotions. Those are the things that stay with us, not the plot. Great novels are rarely defined by – or remembered for – their plot, are they? But without their plot, they probably wouldn’t be great novels.

There are those who plan their plots, and those who don’t. I’m a planner. I learned very early on that without a plan of some kind I’d start writing a novel, get about a third of the way into it, and then get lost. So now I always plan to a certain extent. But I only plan the plot. Everything else – characters, themes, feelings – I let them develop as I’m writing. The extent of my planning depends on the kind of book I’m writing. If it’s a more ‘traditional’ type of story, I’ll plan it out as a series of key scenes from beginning to end. There’s no detail to these scenes, and the plan itself is no more than two pages at most, but it includes all the essential points along the journey. For novels like my new book, The Bunker Diary, in which the narrative isn’t quite so dependant on traditional plot, I’ll still work out out a plan, but I’ll keep it a lot sketchier.

The main advantages (for me) of working with a plan are:

1) It makes the whole process of writing a novel less daunting. Rather than starting at page one and having nothing but a vast emptiness of unknown writing stretching out ahead of you, all you have to do is start at page one and get to the end of the first key scene. You don’t have to think about what happens next, because you’ve already got that worked out. You just have to take it step by step, scene by scene, and forget about everything else.

2) And because you don’t have to think about what happens next, you can put absolutely everything into each scene you’re writing.

3) If you know what’s going to happen later on in the book, you can (if you’re very careful!) shape your writing towards it.

However, the essential thing to remember about planning your plot is that is your plan, so you can do whatever you like with it. You don’t have to stick rigidly to it. You can change it. Digress from it. Move it around. You can realise that it doesn’t work and completely rewrite it.

Planning your plot is the same as every other aspect of writing a novel – it’s yours, and yours alone.

About the Author

Kevin Brooks was born in Exeter in 1959, and he studied in London and Birmingham. He spent much of his early life writing and recording music, and has worked in a crematorium, a zoo, a post office, a garage, and countless other awful places. His first book, Martyn Pig, was published in 2002, and he has now written eleven YA novels and three crime novels for adults. His books have won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Jugendliteraturpreis award in 2006 and 2009. He lives in North Yorkshire with his wife Susan and a bunch of animals.

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