Plotting a novel sounds easy, doesn’t it? After all, it’s just telling all the things that happen in a story.
The trick, though, is to make the story exciting enough for readers to keep turning the pages. That takes a lot of thought and consideration, and sadly, some tough decisions.
I recently received a letter from Northcote Primary School in Australia asking about my novel, Run (reviewed here on CM:http://umanitoba.ca/cm/vol15/no13/run.html ). Here are the five questions and my answers.
1. What inspired you to write this book, Run?
I enjoy writing historical fiction in this time period, just after the turn of the 20th century. When I write a novel I start with a setting or time period, then look for a subject that interests me and start plotting a story around it. Here, I wanted to learn more about polio and how it affected people’s lives, because by 1910, polio had become a huge concern with major epidemics throughout the developed world.
2. Who inspired you?
There really was no single inspiration for this story other than my limited experience growing up with the dread of polio. While the vaccine was developed when I was a child, I still met some young people who’d had the disease. This CBC archive talks about the 1949 epidemic in Canada:http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/health/public-health/polio-combating-the-crippler/1949-polio-epidemic-hits-northern-canada.html
3. Why did you make Jacob and Victoria come from different families?
Good question! One of the decisions that an author must make when plotting a book is how to introduce conflict to keep readers wondering what will happen. You can do this in a few ways, but having two main characters who don’t see eye-to-eye is one of the easiest. Sometimes I use a main character and an antagonist, or person who comes between the main character and what he or she wants to achieve. And sometimes, like in Run, I use two main characters who have significant differences.
With Run, I also wanted to explore more about the ways that we become knowledgeable. Jacob and his mother, being farmers, have a different way of knowing than Victoria and her well-to-do family. I wanted to put Victoria, my main character, in a position where she’d learn to appreciate the differences and learn not to look down on people.
Many of today’s young readers can readily identify with Jacob and Victoria and the challenges of becoming a family. While step-families may have had different reasons for coming together a century ago, the challenges they face as they learn to live in one household are still very similar.
4. Why did you include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
There were lots of reasons! Run is part of a literary reading series, and one characteristic of this type of story is that it often has ties to other literary books. Also, I love the Oz books, and hoped that young people reading Run might get interested in those books and read them too.
Something that fascinated me as I wrote my novel, though, was how easy it was to parallel the growth of my main characters, Victoria and Jacob, with the growth of the Wizard of Oz characters. While Oz is a fantasy and Run is historical fiction, linking the two stories so closely showed me a lot about the commonalities in all good stories.
5. Why did you get Elizabeth to die?
That was difficult! I didn’t start out the story that way, but as I wrote I knew that having Elizabeth die was the best way to both strengthen the plot and increase the tension for the other characters.
Why? Well, Elizabeth is actually the reason that the step-family exists. Without the younger sister, Victoria’s father might not have remarried at all, since Victoria was old enough to take care of herself. But Elizabeth was so young she needed someone to care for her. And Jacob’s mother remarries in order to provide her son with what she hopes will be a better future, since Jacob’s uncle ended up with all of the farmland.
When Elizabeth dies, the reason for the family to exist disappears in an instant. Then, the characters must decide whether they really want to stay together or not. They must find ways that they can relate to one another without little Elizabeth. And that’s what a large part of the plot is about–forging relationships.
If you have any questions about Run, or any of my other novels, I’m happy to answer them!