Faulksian Plot

Being a huge cricket fan, I often find myself with Test Match Special on in the background wherever I am in the world. Apart from when the pitiful Christopher Martin-Jenkins or bland Simon Mann are commentating. So I was annoyed to be torn when the latter conducted a recent lunchtime View From The Boundary interview. It was with best-selling novelist, and of course cricketing nut, Sebastian Faulks.

A pair of threads occurred to me as interesting to us sellers. Firstly, in a general sense, he had three tips for wannabe writers;

  1. stretch yourself
  2. do what matters to you
  3. keep plugging away

The first stems from his belief that you must ignore the advice always given to writers, which is to write about what you know. Rather, write about what you don’t know. If you’re male, write about a female. Write in a different country, from another era. When you stretch yourself, he reckons you develop better.

He then revealed that you should write only what you “care terrifically” about. Don’t think about or write for a market. And finally, you must keep plugging away (“like Glenn McGrath”, the annoyingly nagging Aussie Test-winning bowler).

These are well-trodden themes, certainly familiar to anyone that’s read (usually tedious) ‘how I did it’ autobiogs from just about any walk of life. Get out your comfort zone, do what you love, have persistence. And he even introduced the notion of being contrarian.

His other strand was, thankfully I felt, more revelatory. It related to how he developed his stories. It gave rise to this construct;

thought – idea – plot

He often brings up thoughts of his chatting in the pub with friends. It’s his method of market research. If people become animated, then the thought can progress and possible book content is born.

He illustrated by way of example from something he’s currently writing (the narrative by the boyfriend and also manager of a female 70s American singer-songwriter); Isn’t it true that singers have particular notes that suit them, and do they manufacture songs to specifically feature them? From this thought the conversation weaves towards how they’d write about personal life-experiences and ultimately whether such a singer would actually live their life in order to conjure up material. This proved an idea that got people talking. He often finds that one idea can generate several offshoots and it’s these that you’re after. The plot he says then looks after itself, being the incidences that simply link together such ideas.

Now this is something. Most people would think that you’d need to have the plot outlined first, right? Yet here’s a fella that’s sold millions of quality tomes advocating quite the reverse.

Your sales process could easily incorporate elements of this insight. Thoughts represent your efforts to talk about the problems you resolve. If your prospect riffs on them from their point of view, then you can have ideas on which to build. Who’s affected, how are they involved, what’s the impact. The plot then becomes the obvious actions that need to take place to join everyone together in their organisation to say ‘yes’ and make the change.

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