How about this for a confession: I never realised the real importance of plot until my agent pointed out that the second novel I’d sent him lacked ‘narrative drive’. It was a bit like being back in secondary school, and being told by a teacher to go back and do it again. It reminded me of the time my English teacher did, in fact, tear out some pages from my exercise book and chuck them in the bin, saying, as I remember, ‘Piffle.’ In both cases, then and now, I felt like I’d been shot in the head with a reality-check dart. What exactly had I been thinking? I was struggling to get it. What was I relying on? Style? Sophisticated language techniques? A quirky personality? Good taste in footwear? Well, sorry, but, no. Not entirely, anyway. So I did a lot of thinking. People will tell you that writers write novels because they have something to say. I’ve never been altogether sure about that, actually. Some writers are prolific. I mean, who has that much to say? Not me. Now, let me make it clear that I (ahem) have an MA in Creative Writing. I know all about narrative arcs and Freytag’s Pyramid. But, come on. Freytag was a nineteenth century novelist who analysed trends in plots. This, I thought, is the twenty-first century. I wanted to do something a bit more…edgy.
So, I took to Google. Because Google never lies, right? Go on then, Google this ‘narrative drive’ my agent spoke of. Actually, don’t bother, you come up with…nothing…or rather a pile of links to forums where everyone is asking what it means. That, and links to narrative-driven computer games. Interesting, but…Okay, I thought, who do I like to read? Paul Auster. (Definitely Google him.) But he said this: ‘When I write, the story is always uppermost in my mind, and I feel that everything must be sacrificed to it. All elegant passages, all the curious details, all the so-called beautiful writing – if they are not truly relevant to what I am trying to say, then they have to go.’
And despite myself and all the fancy sentences and curious details I had in my head, I only realised then that you do have to have a story – a plot – of course, but it has to be and has to remain the most important thing, otherwise, what are you saying? Freytag, I guess, would call it my moment of release. And honestly? It’s made it all better – this second novel, I mean, and I think I know what narrative drive really is. Paul Auster, though, puts it better than me: ‘The story is not in the words; it’s in the struggle.’ Paul, I hear you. (Kerry Hadley-Pryce wrote The Black Country in 2015. She is working on her second novel, Broken Dolls, now.)