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To Plan or to Plunge? by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Plotting and Planning
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

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I used to find it difficult to describe my writing process, but I’ve become a little more deliberate in trying to observe myself over the years. While each book has had a different journey, I think I can now say a few things for certain. The first of these is that I’m not a planner. When working on a book, my process is a strange, slowly-evolving journey of discovery. I only really understand what the story is about when I’m finally finishing it. In slightly more analytical detail then, this is how it generally plays out for me:

Draft Zero

With only the vaguest, haziest idea in my head, I splash down a very messy draft, just concentrating on getting words out of my head, not worrying too much about sequence or sense or coherence. When I get to some ill-defined end of this process I have what I like to call my ‘Draft Zero,’ aka a complete mess – a drunken, creaky, catastrophe of a thing. It pays to lock this monster in a box for a while and go off and do something else for a while.

Letting it rest and then coming back to it

The resting period should be a minimum of a week, preferably more. It’s only after a complete break from the story that I’m able to see if the thing has any potential. (At this point I’ve thrown many a draft zero into the bin, a painful but necessary mercy killing).

Deciding to take it on

The real work only begins if I decide the story has some chance. In that case, it’s going to be a long and tangled wrestle from this crazy raw material to finished, structured story. I must look in the mirror and say motivational things to myself.

Sorting it out

This is when I roll up my sleeves in the same way you might when deciding to clear out one’s attic. Lots of decisions are necessary now: What will I keep? Which characters have potential and which need to be dumped or saved for something else? I cull. I add. I develop. I fillet in a quest to decipher the solid ingredients of the story.

Getting it right

This is when I think seriously about the quality of the plot : the triggering event that launches the story into act one, the key turning points, the rising tension, the conflict, the complications, the conclusion. By this point, I have my characters, my plot, my structure, my climate but there’s still much work to do. It is when I move to the hardest and most challenging part of the process:

Making it good

One of the things that really helped me to push on with my writing was to take the pressure to be good off my shoulders until I’d already done a lot of work. It’s a huge gamble of course, but then all writing is. I think about pace a lot here, whether I have overwritten some parts of the story and rushed through others. I check for consistency, credibility, coherence and characterisation. I do the final flourishes, and clip and add throughout the story to make sure everything is as finely tuned as I can make it.

For me, writing is grappling with ambiguity, uncertainty, frustration, lostness and fear, all with the hope that each time I’m going to find those moments of light that make it all worth it. It’s not the most efficient way to nail down a story, but I’m not sure I could ever do it any other way. I’ve always been a plunger. Draft zero allows me to access my unconscious and get out of my own judgemental way. My new novel, A Strange Kind of Brave was a long time in the making. Some of the ideas it contains I’d been thinking about for many years, while some aspects of the plot only resolved themselves at the eleventh hour. And at the beginning of the journey it was going to be about a group of earthly angels who live in an underground home beneath the ruins of an old psychiatric hospital. Mercifully, it’s turned out to be about something entirely different: a mother and son from Italy who move to a small town in Ireland to open a restaurant. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, but you have to start somewhere and this meandering, ambiguous, and lengthy process seems to be the only way I can do it. Even if you are a planner and you have the whole thing figured out before you begin (in which case you make me queasy with envy), the wonder of writing fiction is that it will surprise you in the most unpredictable and enchanting of ways. And however you work, another one of the things I have learned is that there are no short cuts. It’s all in the striving:  striving to put it down, striving to sort it out, striving to get it right, striving to make it good.

(c) Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

About A Strange Kind of Brave:

Jake McCormack is the villain of Clanfedden. He’s just killed a boy – deliberately run him over with his truck, on the bridge, in front of everyone. And he knows he’ll get away with it.

Luca, 14, is the new boy in town. He’s looking for a fresh start after a terrible thing that happened at his old school. Clanfedden is a small forgotten town, but Luca and his mum are going to give it a go. They’re opening an exciting restaurant, and Allie Redmond is coming to work there. Allie is honest and kind and Luca knows they’re going to be friends.

Allie has lived in Clanfedden all her life and these should be happy days – Luca is the best thing to have happened in years. But she’s haunted by shadows of her own, and more than anyone she knows the danger of Jake McCormack. She needs to warn Luca. She needs to prevent disaster. At least she needs to try…

“Gripping, with an incredible twist that you simply won’t see coming” – Louise O’Neill

“This tale of friendship, betrayal, love, loss, revenge and obsession, written by a master storyteller, is quite literally unputdownable” – Donal Ryan, Booker Prize shortlisted author

Order your copy online here.


About the author

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a professor and teacher of creative writing at the University of Limerick. Her research focuses on teaching and learning in higher education. She writes fiction for children and young adults, has been shortlisted for the CBI book of the year, the Waterstones Prize and Scotland’s red book award. Her fifth novel, A Strange Kind of Brave, is out now.

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