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The Plot Thickens

I finished Chapter 8 of Shattered last night. It’s leading me to the middle of the story, where all the plot threads start to interweave. Now I have to decide just how that’s going to happen – or rather, being a pantser, I have to sit at the keyboard and see how it all plays out.

One of the reasons being a pantser creates angst for me is that I’m just not a linear thinker. The past, present and future of my characters don’t always come to me in the right order. I come up with an idea, and it sprouts offshoots that lead me in a dozen different directions. I want to follow them all, even though I know most of them will come to dead end. Of course all those extra words can still be useful, but sometimes I wish I didn’t write quite so many of them.

Then there’s those secondary characters. I fell in love with Nathan Munroe, Trey’s nemesis in McShannon’s Chance, and now I’m smitten with Nolan, Liam’s older brother in Shattered. That doesn’t mean I love Liam any less as a hero, but Nolan’s backstory keeps cluttering up my mind. He’s a harbour pilot, once a merchant seaman with the proverbial girl in every port. He makes me think of Stan Rogers’ song, Lockkeeper:

‘She wears bougainvillea blossoms/ You pluck them from her hair and toss them to the tide/ Sweep her in your arms and carry her inside/ Her sighs catch on your shoulder, her moonlit eyes grow warm and wiser through her tears/ And I say ‘how can you stand to leave her for a year?”

But Nolan, unlike the sailor in the song, chose to settle down with his Annie, a down-to-earth farm girl from outside Truro. How did they meet? Was she working or visiting friends in Halifax when Nolan came home from one of his voyages, perhaps with his heart broken by a woman like the ‘tropic maid’ in Lockkeeper? Or did he go to sea in the first place to nurse a broken heart?

Another prequel in the making? Perhaps, but right now Nolan is a distraction. Maybe if I politely ask him to go away…but not too far away…

I refuse to think of my convoluted way of thinking as bad for my writing. After all, I’ve read and loved many novels where several plotlines are interwoven and secondary characters are fully developed. I’m thinking of Melanie Wilkes and Gerald and Ellen O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. It’s arguable that the story would have been tighter if we’d been told a lot less about Scarlett’s parents and Ashley’s wife, but would it have been as rich? No. Judith James’ masterfully plotted historicals – her latest, A Libertine’s Kiss, is amazing – come to mind as well. I love a full-figured plot.

But I’m trying to create a good, believable romantic arc for Liam and Alice and tell their story in under 80000 words, without writing 160000. The middle is always the toughest part of a book for me, so perhaps my distractibility is really avoidance behaviour. Writers of blogland, do any of you do this to yourselves?
And does anyone have any good research material on what it was like to be a merchant seaman at the turn of the last century, in Nolan’s time?

I know, I know. Liam and Alice first.