A few months ago, a post cropped up on my Facebook feed. Like so many photos and phrases shared and reshared across social media platforms, the name of the person who first wrote it was long lost. Regardless, it was a witty and apropos comment about our current situation:
I think we can all agree that, in 2015, not a single person got the answer right to “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
If real life were a novel, Covid19 would be one hell of a plot twist, a total “Well, I didn’t see that coming” moment. It’s the sort of surprise that, as a writer, I hope to incorporate in my books – springing it on unsuspecting readers. Imagine me, hunched, cackling over my keyboard, as I devise ways to send my readers off down one path (just a hint of foreshadowing, with a liberal dose of red herrings), only to blindside them. Hours pass as I try to judge which clues I can hide in plain sight, while still maintaining a hope the final revelation will catch readers by surprise. This is one of the reasons I plot out my novels before I start writing them.
I’m a plotter—not just in writing. I plot out my life. I’m lost without a calendar. The daily schedule I produced in advance for the road trip my wife and I took around Ireland last year was a thing of wonder and beauty. I have a rolling four-day menu in my head for our meals, a shopping list at the ready, and a fridge stocked accordingly. I enjoy planning my real life adventures. I rarely go travelling without an itinerary. I like knowing where we’re heading, in life as in my writing.
But when it comes to consuming fiction, rather than producing it, everything changes. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen until I get there. I love being surprised. I hate spoilers.. I don’t understand people who read the last page of a book first, just so they don’t get hit by nasty surprises. For me, not knowing what is going to happen next is half the point. Even on re-reading a book, part of the pleasure comes from spotting things I’d missed on my first read—such as non sequiturs that only make sense with hindsight.
If 2020 has made me aware of one thing, it’s that I’m so pleased my life doesn’t generally unfold with the same degree of unexpected drama I try to put into my novels. The plot twists that add so much excitement and enjoyment to my reading of novels aren’t nearly so enjoyable when they happen in real life. I guess it’s a bit like being shot at—it’s all part of the fun when it happens to Wonder Woman, but I’d much rather it didn’t take place anywhere near me.