Plot has been the bane of my existence as a wannabe writer. I’ve never been at a loss for beginnings; I could envision midpoints, but endings have eluded me with just about every story I’ve begun. In part, I think it’s because the trip from beginning to end seems so overwhelming.
As I planned The Cutting Room, I decided a solution might lie in an enforced beginning-middle-end structure. So I mapped the plot across five days. The story starts on a Wednesday and ends on the following Sunday (each day is a chapter). A great deal happens in between—the story skips continually off the timeline to explore tributaries of memory—but I was liberated by knowing the climax would have to come by the time the Jamieson International Documentary Film Festival closed that first weekend in March 2011. The structure anchored the story; I always had a plot point to come back to, even if it was just a date. The effect was profound. It’s not that I felt I suddenly had permission to write freely, rather that a restriction had been removed. I was running on dry land, not underwater.
What’s interesting to me is that, as I work on my second book, I feel no need to impose any similar kind of structure. I am (touch wood) over the hump.
It doesn’t seem to matter that I don’t yet know how the new story will resolve. I don’t mind a story petering out if it’s been worth the read. Sometimes you have to let the reader down slowly. What happens in the story is more important than how it may resolve. I wonder if I feel this way because I tend to slice and dice plot a great deal. It’s a script thing, bouncing forward and back, interweaving. Starting in the future and filling in the past, for example. I know: this is nothing new to the art of the novel. But I enjoy taking it to an extreme. In film, narrative is constructed partially through editing. Plot is advanced through the juxtaposition of shot and scene. I can’t help it. I see the scenes and how they should knit together. There are parts of The Cutting Room that are virtually scripted and shot-listed—the media conference, for example.
Does it always work? I hope so. If not, it’s at least been a lot of fun to write.