Them bones,them bones, them…More Thoughts on Plots

To plan or not? That’s the story question that is asked most, and not just by writing groups.  Readers want to know how it’s done, too.

I’m thinking about it more lately, as I’m half-way through my crime-reading course.  If there’s one genre where the intricately worked details need to hang together, this is it.  The stories so far have been a mixed bag.  We haven’t all liked all of them, but there have been one or two, that to use the terms of their day, were ‘stinkers’.  Sorry editors, this reading group did not think your selection faultless.

Arthur mee encyclopedia, vol 3Which is not to say that all agreed in liking the other stories.  This is a group with varied literary tastes, and we’re still discussing the merits of classic-crime and hard-boiled in general.  I might get back to you on that later, meanwhile….

Some might assume that the older stories are the culprits.  They’d be wrong to generalise.  Dorothy Sayers 1932 story, The Man Who Knew How, is a cracker.  I’ve read it several times now, and love it.  As a reader, I don’t care how she put it together.  It’s an intricate and intriguing dark-read that I’ll be happy to go back to for pleasure or work.

As a writer, I’m in awe of her skill.  Sayers employed a host of literary tricks to provide a psychological crime story underpinned with observations about how crime fiction works, or doesn’t work, and managed to have fun playing around with ideas of coincidence.  (And no, I’ve no evidence for that statement, but I feel certain she had fun writing this one.)

I don’t know if DLS (as the members of The Dorothy L. Sayers society refer to her) wrote a plan.  No doubt I could find out.  But where does that get me?  I’m not DLS. You’re not either.  I could plot out the events of her story point by point, as she perhaps did, but in what way does that help?

Now don’t panic, I’m not advocating plagiarism here, but actually, that’s not such a bad idea, if you want to understand how something works.  I don’t suppose your GP has to look at bare bones very often, but I would hope he or she has a thorough understanding of the skeleton. I’m guessing they did quite a lot of dissection along the way – I know they used to.  Take it apart, see how it works; know how it fits back together.

Who knows what you might see in the process?

2 thoughts on “Them bones,them bones, them…More Thoughts on Plots

  1. When painters started their career as apprentices in an artist’s studio wasn’t one of their tasks (along with cleaning brushes and sweeping the floor) to copy a great painting to discover how it was done? think that could work for writing, sure it could except…with crime fiction. Isn’t the twists and turns of the plot such an integral element of the writing that you can’t take it and put the flesh of your own words on it (Sorry, I was trying to carry on with your skeleton image and rather wish I hadn’t…). A story like Jane Eyre has been done again and again (although never bettered as far as I have discovered) but not the Hound of the Baskervilles….


  2. I see what you mean, and I wouldn’t want to be mistaken as advocate a direct re-writing approach – I’m not sure anyone can do that without being in danger of producing something like ‘Lambs Tales’ in any genre, can you? I definately mean, study it, and get an understanding of how the crime story works.

    As you say, the Jane Eyre story has never been bettered, but, unpick Jane Eyre, and arguably, we enter the world of fairytale: Beauty and the Beast, is surely part of the real ‘bones’ of that story, and definately available for ‘fleshing out’, (Sorry, I’m going to drop that skeletal stuff too, it’s getting a little gruesome, as well as tortured.) and while, like you, I’ve never seen a rewritten Bronte story that bettered the original, I’ve certainly read plenty of versions of Beauty and the Beast I’ve loved, despite recognising their source.

    As for ‘The Hound…’ there was a very good BBC version, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman… (though, I do admit it’s cheating to compare screenplays with literature).


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