Is plotting a novel like weaving a web?

“Oh what a tangled web we weave – when first we practice to deceive .”

Does this spider write fiction?

I love this old saying by Sir Walter Scott. Well expressed and so true, it needs no explanation. It has always made me picture a deceiver (liar) as a spider, although I doubt that was Scott’s intention. Nevertheless, I always thought picturing a liar as a spider was rather apt. All those legs – scurrying around – startling you unexpectedly – or waiting patiently for you to fall into the trap before pouncing. But aren’t fiction writers deceivers? Writing from their imagination – and making it seem so real? Isn’t plotting a novel rather like weaving a web to deceive the reader? I think so.

I’m not a ‘pantser’ (a writer that writes by the seat of their pants without a plan.)  I tried it once and ended up with pages of disjointed drivel heading nowhere fast. So I started plotting – planning an outline for my book and then infilling with detail – and something clicked. But plotting a novel is hard – bloody hard. And It takes a lot of time. I read somewhere that it was like hewing a statue from rock with your bare hands – and that’s a pretty good simile.

Not all stories have much of a plot to speak of – particularly ‘literary’ novels. And that’s ok. But personally, I’ve always liked a plot in my story – both when I read, and when I write. And of course, there can be sub-plots as well – sometimes several. All these ‘strands’ have to link up and make sense, so that you end up with a satisfying novel – a good read.

When I’d finally figured out my plot, the writing became so much easier. I knew where I was going. I’d hewn out the outline of my statue. Now it was just a case of refining and adding the details. By the time I had a list of scenes and a couple of sentences for each scene to say what happened, the writing began to fly.

Don’t think that you can’t change anything, or that you can’t deviate from your plot. You can and you will. Many things will change as you fill out your story. But as long as the changes link or cling to the other strands of the web, you can change away to your heart’s content.

So if you struggle to write as a pantser, try weaving a web –  and joining the rest of us spiders. 🙂