I had my first Book Meeting on The Wolf Tree.
This is the meeting where First Reader and I sit down, I give her the pitch, and she tells me, No, the plot doesn’t sound stupid.
Seriously. That’s what this meeting is for. Well, mostly. She also picks apart the plot, the characters, the backstories, she asks how it’ll be told, etc., but mostly, she needs to tell me the plot doesn’t sound stupid.
Why do I think my plot sounds stupid? I don’t know. Looking back on my completed novels, those plots don’t sound stupid. But always, at the outset of every project, I’m convinced that my plotline is hopelessly flawed and will make the worst book ever. To be fair, when you boil any plot down to that one-minute “elevator pitch,” it loses a lot. All elevator pitches sound more or less stupid, insipid, unbelievable (in a bad way), or cliché. So, to get me over this first hurdle, we have our first Book Meeting.
But before I can walk into this meeting, the book must have gelled. I’m not talking about working out the basic plot–in fact, plot is the least important aspect. Plots take care of themselves, to a certain degree, as do sub-plots. Sure, I need to know where the bit set pieces are going to be, what the main action is, and so forth, but if I have them sketched out, that’s good enough. I need to know where I’m going, but I don’t necessarily want to know exactly how I’m going to get there. I used to obsess about every detail in outlines before, and found that it always changed in the production phase, so now I don’t worry about the details of the action. Broad brushstrokes work fine for plot.
More important than plot is the structure. Not what will happen in the story, but how it will be told. Will it be linear? Recursive? Flashbacks? Multi-threaded? How many characters? How many POVs? Structure affects the reading of the story because it controls how information is presented. An action-heavy plotline will benefit from some cliffhanger chapter breaks, whereas a more character-driven plot will have a forced, unnatural feel if I shoehorn cliffhangers into it.
I also need to have an idea of what style I’m going to use. First person or third person? Omniscient or limited? Lyrical or straightforward? Dialogue-heavy or dialogue-sparse? These aren’t cast in concrete (well, none of this stuff is, really) but they’re decisions that should be made before pen touches paper. Stylistic decisions need to support the plot, structure, and the thematic elements.
And those are the crucial items: the thematic elements. What are the big questions facing my characters? What is the book about? I don’t believe a novel needs a “message,” per se–“If I’d wanted a message, I’d have called Western Union!”–but I always want my books to have a single encompassing idea, a topic they will discuss. Usually, it’s a single word that (for me) infuses the story. Betrayal. Family. Love. Forgiveness. I’ve used these in the past.
Before I walk into my first Book Meeting I need to have all this ready because I’m going to pitch the book to First Reader, and she’s going to pick it apart with all her might.
Turns out, the plot for The Wolf Tree is not stupid.
Oh, and we fixed the ending (parts of which were unbelievable, cliché, and stupid).