The Best Writing Tip I’ve Ever Received: Forget about Plot

Writer working from home


Plot was always my downfall, my weak spot, my Achilles heel – you get the picture. Description, I was okay with: sights and sounds, tastes and smells; I could even describe how the bark of a tree or the petal of a foxglove felt. And my dialogue – that was pretty damn good, if I say so myself. But plot? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Where should I start? What genre would it be? And most importantly, what did I want to write about?

Many times over the years I’d start to write. I’d begin my epic bestselling masterpiece, and then the same thing would happen: I’d find myself writing about my life. The heroine turned into me, the events were mine, and it became a pretty boring memoir. The ultimate ego trip. That was a bit limiting for a bestselling novel. And who wants to read the autobiography of an unknown?

I sidestepped the problem by giving in to my urges. I decided I needed to get it all down – the past, the family stuff, my memories – all written down, but not as a novel. As a record, a journal, a chronicle for my daughters and grandchildren. All the little stories that my mother had told me, the little anecdotes from decades ago. Perhaps that would free me up to write something from my imagination – that elusive masterpiece. With a plot …

It gave me a distraction for a while at least, but then I was back to square one. I didn’t even know why it was so important for me to write a book – I just knew I had to. I was retired at last, so if not now, when? But a book with no plot …?

My daughter encouraged me to enrol in a creative writing course with the Open University, which I did because, one, there were probably a few things I could learn (!!!). Two, I needed to know – was I any good at writing? And most of all, how could I find my plot?

The revelation came quite early on, in one of our rare face-to-face tutorials, when I raised my big question. And my tutor said, ‘Forget about plot. Find your characters, find your setting and plot will come.’ And I thought – yeah, right! But I decided to give it a go.

Characters? Well, I’d seen a couple of women on the train that morning, and they’d interested me; they seemed oblivious to everyone and everything around them as they gossiped, heads together, laughing and tutting. I’d put them in my little story.

Setting? I thought, let’s keep it contained to start with. I remembered my mother telling me about the time she worked in a school. So, how about a school canteen?

And before I knew it, my characters came alive and took my story forward. And, yes, I found my plot! It was no blockbuster. The action was, of necessity, limited. But there was a plot, and there was a story!

I finished the course, passing every element. Then I signed up for a master’s degree. Whenever I was given an exercise to do, I would mutter the mantra, ‘Forget plot!’ – and I did. I’ve just completed my degree, with a distinction. It turned out that I wasn’t bad at writing.

About the Author

Alana Davies

Alana Beth Davies has had a number of careers, including teaching and lecturing, alongside a life in politics. She has run her own businesses, from dolls-house shops to a baby store and a B&B, all while raising her family of five daughters. Since retiring from the world of further education – and politics –  she is concentrating on her writing career, with some sewing projects along the way.

In the past few years, she has written and published a novel, collections of short stories and of poems, and a number of children’s stories. Alana was delighted to achieve a distinction in her Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing this year, and now she is well into her second novel.



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