Have a Map (and then Diverge)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
By: 
Anna George Interviewed by Christy Collins

Plotting and Structure for Beginners

CC: Which comes first for you, plot or character?

AG: I usually start with the kernel of a story. That kernel, with What Came Before, was a dynamic: an intimate relationship where one person is abusive. The characters came next, and then I started to write. The Lone Child was inspired by a child’s disappearance but I didn’t want to write a ‘child goes missing’ story. So I decided to use the vantage point of an unrelated woman who encounters a seemingly neglected child, as a starting point into a story about parenting, judgement and loss.  So I start with a situation which I populate with characters and then I let them loose; and see what happens.

CC: Do you plan your novels, before starting to write or do you “get it all down on paper” and then work on plot and structure in subsequent drafts?

AG: To begin with, I don’t plan. The story unfolds as I go along. I have a very rough idea of what needs to happen to kick the thing off and move it forward, and maybe where it’s heading; but that’s about it. My first drafts involve dead ends and loose strands as I get a feel for the characters and what might happen. I do a lot of rewriting, teasing out the story’s shape as the characters reveal themselves more fully and I understand what the story is actually about. I am very conscious of the story’s structure in the later drafts.

CC: You trained as a lawyer, how does this affect your writing?

AG: I remember in first year at university being encouraged in Legal Process to use the dictionary, as much as possible. Precision was really important and obviously that’s the same for writers.  The tools of the trade are the same for writers and lawyers. Thinking logically and running a line of argument clearly through to its endpoint (regardless of whether you believe in it or not) are also skills which cross over.

CC: Fiona Hardy (from Readings) called What Came Before “searingly local” – how important is setting to your work?

AG: It’s very important though I didn’t set out consciously to write as locally as I have; it’s something that’s happened as each story has drawn on the physical environment in which it was set. I look to the world around my characters to enrich my stories and reflect their preoccupations, and the physical environment is a huge part of that world.  These days, I can’t imagine writing something in which setting isn’t fundamental.

CC: What tools do you hope course participants will come away from your course with?

AG: Hopefully participants will come away with a clearer idea of how stories are constructed and what is needed to keep a story on track. Though I don’t plan as such, I rewrite with a plan. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very easy to get lost when you’re writing a long piece of fiction. Having a map, even if it’s one you diverge from, is very useful. You can always retrace your steps and choose another path but without a map at all throughout the process you can stay lost – for years. So participants will learn how to structure a story and how to use that understanding of structure to diagnose problems with their manuscript, and get it back on track.

 

About Anna George

Anna George has worked in the legal world as well as the film and television industries. Her first novel, 'What Came Before', was shortlisted for the 2015 Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Best Debut Fiction awards, and was longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award. Anna’s second book, 'The Lone Child', was short listed for the 2018 Ned Kelly Best Crime Fiction Award. Both books have been critically acclaimed and sold overseas.