Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Post on Voice + Plot by Jennifer Hubbard

I've known Jennifer R. Hubbard for several years and one thing about her has always impressed me: she is one of the most level-headed people on the planet. I know I can turn to her for advice on any topic. In addition to this wonderful trait, she is an exceptional writer, as her first novel, The Secret Year (now out in paperback), demonstrates. Jenn and I are cross-posting on the conjoined topics of voice and plot, and I'm delighted to present her post this week.

Janet suggested voice and plot as topics, which is interesting because they are the two elements I must have in place before I can begin a story. Even if I have a good plot, I can’t write it until a narrator starts whispering in my ear. If I have just a voice, I can get a couple of good sentences out, but then the story has nowhere to go.

With my first book, The Secret Year, I think I had the plot first, and it was waiting for Colt’s voice. With my second book, Try Not to Breathe, I seemed to start with a voice. I had a character in a scene, but I didn’t know why he was there or where he was headed next. Then I realized that he was going to tell a story, to live out a plot, that I’d had in mind for a long time: the question of how people come back from the brink of suicide. There are a lot of books out there that deal with the aftermath of suicide, or that end with a character deciding whether to commit suicide—but what happens next? If the character lives, how does he put his life back together?

Of course, a character can’t do much in a vacuum. Another character approached my main character right away. What did she want? I wondered. Where would she take him? The answers to these questions led my characters to a road trip, audiences with psychics, and a complicated relationship of their own.

It probably sounds as if I’m not directing the characters so much as observing them and recording what they do, and my writing often feels that way. I do make conscious choices, I do intentionally divert the stream, but most of the decisions seem to come from some subconscious level. In that sense, much of what I do is not about generating stories as much as it is about listening, remaining open. Hunting for those voices and plots, squirreling them away, and having them come out in surprising ways.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of the young-adult novel, The Secret Year and the forthcoming Try Not to Breathe. She blogs at and


Irene Latham said...

I agree wholeheartedly: writing is about discovery. Which requires not so much string-pulling as listening. I'm excited for Jenn's new book!

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

It's always interesting to learn how authors plot. Such an individual process. I remember when I thought there was one right way to do it. Kind of like getting through life's journey. In the end, it's an individual path we take. Thanks, Jenn and Janet.

Denise Jaden said...

Really interesting post, Jenn! I think I write a lot by feel as well, and I really need to hear my narrator's voice, in fact, I think that's the most important aspect before I start any story.

Janet Fox said...

Thank you guys, for coming by! I found it very interesting to read this and write my own post and reflect on our different strategies for coping with the vagaries of plotting.

Michelle said...

Great post, and I love your idea to cross-post on each other's blogs about voice and plot. So interesting to see how other writers think about the different elements of writing and how they work together!

Terri-Lynne said...

It was neat to read two takes on voice and plot. Thanks!

Janet Fox said...

Thanks, Terri-Lynne! It was fun to do. :)