Thickening the plot

In September, 2019, Rhobin wants to know, “In designing your plots, what do you rely on most: personal experience, imagination, or research?”

Well, Rhobin, all I can say is, I don’t know!

Twenty years ago, I could have given a firm answer, because I was meticulous about plot design. Before starting to write, I had a dossier about each main character, and knew what was to happen to them and where, in considerable detail. Oh sure, as I wrote, some events dropped out, others emerged, new people came along and sometimes caused major changes — but overall, the plot came first, the story then developed from it.

I think this is necessary for an inexperienced writer. It sure beats having a story go nowhere, with dangling plot lines. That’s how my first two attempts at writing a novel turned out.

But then, Sleeper, Awake came along. I only had one design specification: the entire story was to have no villains. Everyone was decent and well-intentioned, and yet I wanted to have lots of tension. I must have done OK, because the book won an award, and a few months ago, John Rosenman gave a very favourable review. He doesn’t throw those around lightly.

What I had initially was a person: Flora Fielding, who tried to escape cancer through cryogenic storage, but then woke into a new world after 1433 years of “sleep.” I didn’t know any other characters until they introduced themselves to Flora, and through her, to me. I found out about the world, its rules and happenings as Flora did.

This worked so well that since then, I’ve even been writing short stories that way. So, Rhobin, I cannot answer your question, because I don’t design a plot!

Being contrary, I’ll do my best to answer the question anyway.

I love research. After all, being a research scientist was the first occupation I retired from. As a kid, one of my favourite books was the encyclopaedia. History, geography, physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, sociology, anthropology… If it’s a body of knowledge, I find it fascinating. So, my writing always involves research, which is SO easy now, with the internet. In the olden days, I used to spend 8-hour days in the university library.

Personal experience… In my introduction of myself in Through Other Eyes, which I have reproduced as Who is this Bob Rich fellow anyway? I wrote:

    Whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.

Finally, imagination is one of my curses. I have all too much of it, and it intrudes at the worst times. I don’t know how many times in my life I tripped on my tongue because of having too much imagination. However, it is a good thing when crafting a story. My friend and writing mentor Florence Weinberg is one of the few people who have read the fourth volume of my Doom Healer series, The Prince of Light. She was very complimentary about the many life forms I described all around the Universe.

Here is the start of that book.

And here is Chapter 23.

By the way, I’d love to have a few more beta readers for the Doom Healer books, so if you enjoy inspirational modern history alternative reality science fiction, send me an email. Yes, that’s what the genre is.

Anyone who comments has earned the right to have a free read of one of my Doom Healer books. As I told you, I am seeking feedback. But you are allowed to comment, and yet decline the prize. One of my rules is, I can ask anyone anything, as long as I can accept a no.

Then, please visit this bunch of ladies, and see what they have to say. Yes, by some coincidence, I am the only male participant in Rhobin’s Rounds.

Rhobin L Courtright
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Anne Stenhouse
Beverley Bateman
Diane Bator
Connie Vines
Margaret Fieland

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Bob's Books, Rhobin's round robin, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Thickening the plot

  1. okwriter says:

    I enjoyed your post, especially the idea of not designing a plot. I don’t plot extensively but i have an idea where I’m going (which may change as i write) And no villains. What a concept. It’s a bigger challenge to develop tension.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Beverley. The tension came in part because various people considered each other (or even themselves) to be villains. Then there is adventure: pitting oneself against obstacles, and reaction to historical events…
      My characters were good teachers.


  2. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Florence Weinberg emailed this to me:
    Hi Bob, I just spent an hour carefully crafting a comment on your “Thickening the Plot” and included a comment on Margaret Goodman’s reaction to your start of the new novel. Not suspecting that I should copy and paste the comment BEFORE trying to post it, I clicked the “post” button only to have the whole thing obliterated in a split second. I suppose it was too long. The gist was this: I generally have a fair idea of what the proposed novel will contain, but few details. Or maybe one or two scenes already imagined. Then I let the Muse take me wherever she wills. Similar to what you now do, I think.
    As for Margaret Goodman, she represents, I think, the good first-time reader who has not encountered Bill Suttcliff and the Enemy before. I thought Cokl-Red asked his peers to look at the persons around them because they had to learn to see the bodies of light emanating from them as opposed to the horns of darkness. That seemed clear to me. Yes, perhaps you should move the remark about poisoning Zlir-Red right after you say Cokl-Red passed between the two Zlirs. That would be a small adjustment. As for gender differences, yes, more description is needed, though not necessarily in the first chapter. Are the males colorful like male birds and the females drab? The final question about severing Universes could be answered in a few words from Earth: the Universe of hatred, fear and conflict is forever severed from the rest of Creation.
    The battle scenes are quite effective. We follow every move, breathlessly. We almost hear the whir of wings. You could add some sound effects like heavy breathing, gasps, groans, snapping of toothy jaws. But the visuals enable us to imagine everything. Well done, my friend!
    Much metta, Florence


  3. Skye-writer says:

    I’m chuckling because I attended a local writer’s meeting this morning and the presenter talked about the importance of setting, then during the Q&A someone asked him if he plotted his stories out before he started writing – he hedged for a bit and finally admitted he knew where the story would end. Felt reassuring to me because that’s how I write. I do have detailed dossiers on my characters as you once did, then I drop them into the inciting incident and let them take me along for the ride, but I ALWAYS know where they are going to end up and often even write the final chapter before I start the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Skye. Yes, I often write, or at least sketch out, the ending first. I did this with Guardian Angel — but that ending was so terrible that on the advice of a publisher I extended the story beyond it to a new, lovely ending.
      I still have something like dossiers for characters, but they are written as the details are revealed to me, not in advance. And even more important in a complex story is a timeline.


  4. Rhobin says:

    Sounds like you’ve internalized all the prewriting you did before so that strong imagination is always at work while writing. Enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Rhobin. I’ve said it before, an experienced chef may cook without reference to a recipe, but if you analyze the process and ingredients, the recipe was there, implicit.


  5. Victoria Chatham says:

    ‘ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination’. What a great line! Good post and shows that every writer has very different methods of getting their book into the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Bob, Such a good resumé of your development. Dangling plotlines in early efforts struck a chord. I, too, enjoy research and have almost conquered the tendency to let it haul me down alleyways. Anne Stenhouse

    Liked by 1 person

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