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Pillars of the story

A copy I found in the Westminster Abbey gift shop in London.

I'm munching on deformed peanut butter cups and brainstorming for my next book. There are three ideas swirling in my head right now (or maybe four), but I think I've finally picked one and so I'm figuring out the basic plot points.

Yes, I've said I'm a pantser, mister–or whatever you want to call it–who doesn't work well with structure. I've gone back and forth on plotting versus pantsing and somewhere-in-between so many times your neck probably hurts from watching. But I think my failed experiment with plotting had less to do with the act of creating a structure, and more to do with not having found the right one yet.

But I was recently re-inspired.

My husband and I are watching the Starz! production of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (on Netflix instant play via Wii–LOVE my technology). He's one of my very favorite authors in any genre, and that book is up at the top of my list of best books ever. It's been years since I read it, so the mini-series–which is surprisingly well done–has been an excellent reminder of what an incredible storyteller Follett is. And I've noticed a couple things.

Follett's not afraid to put his characters through hell. In fact, I cringe at what they go through and at how evil some of the antagonists in his story are. As events unfold, I can almost imagine Follett asking himself, “What's the worst thing that could happen to this character now?”

Also, the character's goals and motivations are very clear, and they act accordingly without fail.

So as I move forward with my next book, I will try to incorporate these elements and create a framework on which to build my story, while still honoring my need to “wing it” from plot point to plot point. The major plot points are the pillars, and the fun is in creating the arches that connect them.

Wish me luck on my journey from apprentice to master builder. And, good luck in your own journey!

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Aaaaahhhhhh. This is one of my very favorite books of all time! I haven’t seen the movie, and I’m not sure I will. But this post totally makes me want to read the book again! 🙂

    • Reply

      Wow, you’re quick on the draw! I know, I love the book. Apparently, he has a new novel coming out in the fall. Not sure of the premise, but other than his really early works, I’ve loved everything he’s done, especially his historicals like MAN FROM ST. PETERSBURG and JACKDAWS.


  2. Curtis


    “The major plot points are the pillars, and the fun is in creating the arches that connect them.”

    Now that is the image/ visual I’ve been looking for.
    I see the arches actually flowing.

    Arch–to—[piller of change]–Arch–to– [piller of change]
    (flow) (flow)

    Makes me want to go dream up a hand full of characters and throw them into a mix and see what happens.

    • Reply

      That’s great, Curtis! I imagined sort of flying or swinging between them, like they are something to reach for. Anyway, glad it resonated with you. Go dream! =)

  3. Reply

    Hi Gwen. I haven’t read a Follett book in years. Figures I’d see your recommendation now that school’s starting up again.

    I’m curious about this –
    Follett’s not afraid to put his characters through hell. In fact, I cringe at what they go through and at how evil some of the antagonists in his story are.

    What do you think makes that work and not feel to the reader like the author is just throwing bad stuff at the characters. (I’m referring to how the average reader who is not a writer would read it.)



    • Reply

      Ooh, Mary, you’re making me think today. Great question. Before I get started just know that I’ve been up since five, which is about three hours earlier than normal. 😉

      I think the most important reason it works is that the actions of the antagonists are in keeping with their GMC (or personality). Follett also does a great job of setting up the motivation so it’s clear. For example, when you find out why one man was induced to attempt the murder of another, it’s not really surprising because you’ve seen him long for the promised reward several times.

      Sometimes his protags are forced to make a tough choice, but, again, their actions are dictated by their GMC, so it makes sense. Nothing seems frivolous or “thrown in”, but it’s still painful.

      In the end, the reader is rooting for this person who’s been through hell to finally have a win, and for the antags to get their punishment.

      As a side note, if I had to pick a theme for Pillars of the Earth (and many of his other books), there’s a definite notion of cosmic karma, or good wins over evil in the end.

      Did I answer it? Thanks!!

  4. Curtis


    I’ve been meaning to thank you for the tip about Instapaper. I just finished an article on the GoM. The program made storing the research a breeze.

    I kept wondering why is this so much easier than my onboard book marks? It dawned on me. I can see them. There is enough space given to each marker to read them individually.

    A zillion bookmarks down the side of the screen becomes one big blur. Folders don’t help. A half a zillion of those become one big blue blur. 🙂

    All I had to do was throw in a comment/topic/heading with the saved piece and the article outlined itself.

    Thanks again.

    • Reply

      Always glad to help, Curtis. Do you mean Instapaper or Evernote? I guess you could probably use either one. Either way, you’re welcome. 😉

  5. Curtis


    Instapaper. It has an “edit” feature that allows you to add notes. But, it is clean and simple. Makes it easy to use. The program is not in the way.

    5:00 AM.. 🙂 So how is it so far??

  6. Pingback: What I’m learning in the Game of Thrones | The Edited Life

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