Receive my ‘Read. Write. Run. Repeat.’ newsletter

Regular updates of my reviews and commentary direct to your inbox.

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).


E-book trash, not publishers, keeps authors poor
Sugged in by Joe and his YouTube antics

Leave a comment



corinna hente says

Yes! I like the idea of knowing the plot of anything I write, but any time I know in detail what's coming it comes out as flat and dead as a doormat. For my writing to work at all, I have to come to it fresh as I write. It's almost like it has to bypass the conscious thinking process. I've always just assumed that was a sign of my lack of discipline or diligence or ability, but maybe it's just the way it is for some of us.

Reply to comment


Tony Berry says

As the anonymous "someone" once famously said, the first rule of writing is that there are no rules.

Reply to comment

Julia Underwood says

I once read a book on writing by someone who said that he spent four months (FOUR MONTHS!?) plotting and filling numerous A4 notebooks with his outline - setting out in detail what would happen in every scene. The thought fills me with horror. I would be bored to death with what seemed like a great idea by the time I had spent a week on it. How can you stop yourself putting words into your characters' mouths? How can you stop from writing about their fears and joys?
My method is to get the idea - mess about with who will be in it and give them names (I can't write about anyone who hasn't got a name), form a vague idea of how the thing is going to end and then plunge in and work towards that end. Like Tony, their surprises are my surprises and their difficulties mine too.
This may not be the 'right' method, but it suits me!

Reply to comment


Tony Berry says

Sounds a way to make writing enjoyable rather than a chore. You're along for the ride with your characters. Write on!

Reply to comment