Want to write a novel but don’t have a plot? No problem. You don’t need one. 41



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Discovering your ‘secret novel’ involves three easy steps: climb into the roller coaster, strap yourself in and hold onto your hat!

Before we begin the wild ride, let’s look at two terms. People who write fiction fall into two broad categories: plotters and pantsers.

Plotters plan their books in advance. The plot determines how the events interweave, how the characters behave and what happens at the end. Plotters write detailed profiles of each character, from the sexual proclivities of their grandfathers to what they snack on at midnight. Plotters may get a few surprises as they write but mostly they know their story. It’s comforting. And potentially … dull.

Pantsers write ‘by the seat of their pants’. They’re keyhole peepers who have no idea what’s on the other side of the door. Their novels and their characters are a mystery to them and they discover the story by writing it. It’s a wild ride. Scary and deep. It’s also serious fun.

Your Secret Novel

The quote from Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) says it all: The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. Each one has crossed a border which I myself have circumvented. Beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about.

Wow. The characters are going places the writer hasn’t been. That’s why the novel is a secret – a secret the writer must discover. Not by plotting, by writing. Roller coaster time!

One Sentence and You’re Away

Sit down at a blank screen and wait. When a sentence pops into your head, write it down – even if you know it’s rubbish. It might be rubbish, it’s too early to tell. At the moment you’re in discovery mode and you won’t discover your secret novel if you keep deleting the first sentence.

Write Quickly Without Judgement

One sentence leads to another and another. It’s called writing. Let your fingers reveal the first glimpses of your secret novel. Fill a few pages, letting the thoughts flow.

Schmooze that Voice

Every writer – you’re a writer already – has a ‘who-do-you-think-you-are?’ voice. It nags at you to give up and retile the bathroom or raid the fridge. Schmooze this voice by promising it a turn later – when you’re redrafting. Back to the book.

Be Sociable

Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) wrote: I don’t create characters, I meet them.

This is such a liberating way to discover your characters. Just like real people turn up in your life, let your characters gradually reveal themselves. Write dialogue without knowing what the characters are going to say. They’ll shock you – perhaps with their grandfather’s sexual proclivities or what they snack on at midnight. They’ll take you to those wild places on the other side of the door, beyond that border you circumvented. Hold onto your hat!

Two Steps Forward One Step Back

Each time you write, reread what you wrote last time and tweak it. You might resave each session’s work as a new file so you don’t lose anything. This is part of the drafting process – cut things you don’t like and expand the good things with extra detail, paring back and fleshing out as you go.

Let It Ride

When ideas pop into your head, pop them into the manuscript and let them niggle away until you know why they’re there. Keep a notebook by your bed. Your sleeping mind will join some subconscious dots – the dots your waking mind has circumvented.

The End

You’ll get glimpses of the end, but hold them lightly. Playwright Maria Irene Fornes said: The moment you start pushing them to go in a certain direction, your characters stop talking.

Keep them talking by pantsing your way to the last page. The ending will blow your hat off.


Would you write a book? What would it be about? Have you started?

Virginia King

Virginia King has lived most of her life in Sydney, but has travelled to many places. She's been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, a producer of audio-books, a writer of over 50 children's books, a writing workshop presenter and an award-winning publisher. These days Virginia lives with her husband in the Blue Mountains and writes psychological mystery/thrillers in the Selkie Moon series. Her debut novel "The First Lie" started with one sentence and no plot and won a BRAG Medallion in 2014. The next book in the series "The Second Path" has just been published. You can read about the series and follow my writing blog here: www.selkiemoon.com

  1. Once I asked American writer Bill Rotsler if he knew what the end of his story was before he began writing.

    He grinned and said “No, where’s the fun in that?”

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  2. My life has been a series of ups and downs. I have thought about putting it to paper many times. I think I would use it as the beginning of my novel just to show how I got to where I’m going. I think the main body is yet to come, so bring it on. My novel will be my adventures!

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    • Fran, yes please do. I have had ups & downs all my life & as I retired the time was right & ripe! Interestingly I asked all my family did they want their real names in my book – some answered ‘Oh no’ so I created AllisonWonderland (110 pages plus photos). After they read it, they said but you haven’t used my real name with my real stories!! So I wrote a 2nd book ‘Grown-up Sequel’ (37 pages plus photos) to satisfy them. I have copies to go to the grave with me – it was all such fun!

  3. I’d be a pantser as I work better under pressure. I always wanted to write a book and even had a few ideas but life got in the way and I never did. Now I don’t know if I could be bothered. I’m not the most motivated person in the world, but I still sometimes wish I’d done it.

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  4. Maybe I will and my Italian adventure next year will be the big finish. Grazie

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    • Yes, I did Northern Italy with an Italian I was engaged to at the time – another adventure! I meant to say I named my Paragraphs first (in date order) & then my ‘adventures’ just slotted under each Paragraph.

    • Love reading what you’re wanting to do, Fran. All the very best. My first series includes many of the places we visited in Italy and Austria, along with heaps in Australia, albeit in a fictional story. Gorgeous parts of the world 🙂

  5. I don;t want to write a novel, but i do want to write down what I remember, that my siblings don’t – maybe with a change of names …..?

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    • Hi Karen, if you look at Fran Spears starting My life has been – I have detailed what my family requested for their names in my book/s. I found it comical!

  6. Karen Oriented, I have a book I bought called “Dear Mum from you to me” Journal of a lifetime. It has page headings and you write about the headings. It’s about your life and the child you are writing to. It’s wonderful and it has made me remember so much, good and not so good. I am doing one for each of my children.

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