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Linda Cahill



Creating the Plot

Posted by [email protected] on June 11, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Writers are always asked where we get our plots. Ian Rankin, Inspector Rebus’s creator keeps an idea file of intriguing bits of conversation, news stories or even lines from a song to trigger his next novel. ‘Bird by Bird’ author Anne Lamott says you should write the truest sentence you can and go from there.


I used to struggle with plot too. Then I went back to what worked for me. As a young reporter in Montreal I spent my days hobnobbing with cops and cabinet ministers, political activists and strikers. Editors demanded short, punchy descriptions, lots of quotes and what I can only describe as feeling in every story we wrote. Writing on deadline forged my style. But the ‘feeling’ came from empathizing with the characters or their opponents and victims. The characters were what they did. To put it another way the characters framed my news stories by their behaviour.


When it came to writing fiction I decided to listen to my characters. They have some overtones of those cops and robbers, lawyers and politicians I used to know. But the stories we make together are different.


First I find a memory or a picture or an idea that jogs me into creating a character and setting him or her in an environment where they can be themselves to do what they want. And they take off from there. That’s what I did for the two stories in this Nefarious North anthology. The priest in ‘The Warning’ is like no priest I ever knew. But his indecisiveness, his inability to make his yes, yes and his no, no is something many people can identify with. I set him in northern cottage country as a salute to Nefarious North and because it’s natural beauty and easy way of life seduced him. At first glance the characters in ‘The Three Graces’ may seem different from you and me. But frustrating their natural, human feelings precipitates the tragic consequences in this story.


My characters are bigger and meaner than ordinary people but some of them are also braver and they learn from their mistakes. Once I get the ‘feeling’ right for the character then I’m on my way with the plot.

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