There is only one plot…


There’s much to be said about the craft of writing. That’s why each week on the Abbott Press blog, we’ll take a look at what some of our favorite authors and thinkers have to say about this challenging, fulfilling and sometimes mystifying art. We hope these discussions will help you to further refine your own ideas about writing and to achieve new insights into your own creative process.

We begin our series of Weekly Writing Quotes with something from pulp crime fiction author Jim Thompson on the subject of plot:

“There is only one plot — things are not what they seem.”

— Jim Thompson

For writers who already excel at creating engaging, fluid plotlines in their works, Thompson’s quote might seem like a bit of an oversimplification. But for writers who struggle with plot development, this straightforward idea might help make the process a little more approachable.  

While it might very well be an oversimplification, I think it’s true — and important to recognize — that every good novel unfolds through a process of discovery. Each development serves to uncover new facts and emotions that bring the reader closer to the story’s truth. Whether it peels back the layers of a single character, a relationship, a murder or an alien planet, a good book creates an experience in which the reader walks away with a different, more intimate view of the world that was presented on the first page. The series of moments and actions that bring the reader to that final view is the story’s plot.

That means plot doesn’t necessarily have to be built out of high-energy action sequences and surprising twists; you can use the simple notion that “things are not what they seem” as fuel to create a more subtle type of tension in your story. Use your characters — and the conversations and actions that rise naturally out of their personalities, wants and needs — to reveal the truth of your story.

What in your novel is not as it seems?