Friday, October 25, 2019

The Plot Thickens

What draws you in as a reader?


For me, the answer was always plot – the ability of a supremely talented author at the top of their game, to draw us so completely into their story, that we become engrossed turning the pages and racing to the end.

I remember the time I read Lee Child’s first novel, “Killing Floor”. I was amazed by how simply it seemed to be written. Only much later did I realise that it takes a great deal of skill to write as simply as Mr Child does. But what hooked me was the plot. The story. And of course, the hugely satisfying reveal at the end – so simple, yet so clever. It was done in such a way that it made me want to write.

When I came to writing though, I think I forgot this. For the first draft of my first novel, I was too focussed on the theme of the book, the big issue I wanted to explore – that of how a moral, Christian people justifies the oppression of another race – and at times, I think that took precedence over the pace, tension and intrigue of my plot. Of course, my editor rightly pointed out that no one would bother to read my great exposition on cultural oppression and the fallacy of moral superiority if I didn’t give them a damn good story too, and so I rewrote it, focussing as much on the story as on the theme.

That lesson was rammed home to me again, shortly afterwards, by none other than that legend of crime fiction, Val McDermid. I was fortunate enough to be on a panel with her, where she reiterated that readers of crime and mystery fiction expect a sophisticated, engaging and enthralling plot. And it’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart in my writing.

Having said all that, since I became an author, my reading has evolved. I still read for pleasure, though my time is much more limited these days, and when I do, I tend to go for my favourite authors. Those whose plots and writing styles I so love. But more and more, I’m reading to learn and improve my craft. I find myself being drawn in by authors whose command of language and style of writing take my breath away. In this category I’d place the likes of Martin Amis, whose crime novel, London Fields, I found refreshingly original, and Denise Mina, who has a way of observing and detailing human nature in the most beautiful language and which makes me think I have no business even picking up a pen.

So there we go. That’s me sitting on the fence as usual. For enjoyment and escapism, for me it’s all about plot. But as a writer trying to hone his craft, then it’s down to style and language.