I’ve written a lot of novels. Some of those novels have even been good. Many of them, though, have not been good. They’ve been weak and flabby and soulless. Somewhere deep down in their core, there was something not quite right.

I’ve begun lots of novels. I’ve finished far fewer novels. Somewhere within the novel, something goes wrong. Right about the time when stuff is supposed to start happening, I often have trouble making anything happen. I am not sure what is the matter here.

I think there are many problems–many things I’ve slowly been working on–but right now the thing I am trying to figure out is plot.

Plot is, in some ways, the easiest part of writing a book. Plot can be absurdly mechanical. Many (if not most) books are held together by plots that are so by-the-numbers that they’re almost painful. Every romance novel or romantic film, for instance, has a plot that’s driven by some huge obstacle that’s looming between the couple–an obstacle so large that, even when things are going well, the audience always knows that shit is about to go down.

Plot can be extremely simple. Plot can be nothing more than a bomb ticking in the background. I remember, once, I was playing a story-telling game with some friends, and one of the challenges was to tell a story that had an element of suspense, and I joked that any story could have suspense, even something as simple as “I went to the store and bought some milk and the milk was two dollars more than I thought it would be and it made me unhappy…” if you just begin the story with “I lit a stick of dynamite…”

(i.e. “I lit a stick of dynamite, and then I went to the store and bought…”)

Many plots are exactly that simple. He is a senator, and he’s fallen in love with this woman, but he doesn’t know she’s a maid. That’s the stick of dynamite.

But I don’t know. I can understand these lessons, and yet I have a hard time applying them. Because novels are so big and so complicated, that its often very difficult to answer simple questions like, “What is happening?” and “What is this story about?”

More specifically, I feel like I always have trouble with the conflict on a scene level. How can I create scenes that contain conflict? How can I dramatize the themes of the story? It’s not easy. Usually I do it on pure instinct, but I’d like to take instinct out of the equation, and start to do it in a more controlled fashion.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on now. I’m sure it’ll all come together at some point!