Sarah Jasmon continues our series on Finding the Plot.
My agent asked me about book 2 some months before book 1 came out. I gave her an idea of what I wanted to write (based on one of the ideas I submitted when book 1 was commissioned). It was a kind of reworking of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying unfolding in present day Ireland as an elderly woman is driven from North to South in her coffin, to be buried in her birthplace. I still think it sounds brilliant, and one day I’ll write it. My agent, however, said that maybe I needed a bit more suspense.
So I went away and tried to add more suspense. The action moved to Derbyshire, and involved a marriage breakdown, an abandoned child and a dead grandmother in a freezer. My agent said, ‘too depressing’.
I went back to those submission ideas, and had a go at the second one. I very clearly recall a meeting with my agent and editor where they asked me what the plot was, I told them, and they said, ‘no, that’s a theme. What’s the plot?’ Again and again and again. I wanted to cry. I’d spent at least a month reading different books about plot, had followed the guidelines and filled in the boxes, and I still only had a theme! What more was I supposed to do?
It took another couple of months, a synopsis to which my editor replied, ‘I think you’re more of an organic writer, so maybe now you just need to start writing…’, a writing retreat during which the group loved the opening chapters but the reading of the third one led to a three quarter hour session of them telling me why it didn’t work anymore, and a week-long sulk in which I vowed never to write a-bloody-gain.
Then I pulled on my big girl pants, talked it all over with Graeme Shimmin (who knows plot) and came up with a plan. Which is still holding together. I’m off to meet the retreat writing group again at the end of November. I’m a little nervous, have to say,
but with any luck, they’ll think it’s turned out ok…