Writers Abroad Blog
After the Fact
Posted by Dianne Ascroft

I recently read What Is Forgiven by C.F. Yetmen, an historical novel set in the American sector of post-war Germany, and was completely captivated by the story. Since I write wartime fiction, I often read other books set during the Second World War. I choose them because I enjoy reading other books in the genre and also to see how other writers tackle the era. It occurred to me as I read Yetmen’s novel that I hadn’t read many books set in the immediate aftermath of the war. My focus has always been on the war itself.  

This observation set me thinking about story plots in general. As writers, we’re always trying to generate new ideas for plots that will keep readers engaged. Conflict is a central element required to create a successful plot so dramatic events or situations are obvious catalysts for our plotlines. For instance, we might set a story during a war or a natural disaster such as a fire, an earthquake or a tornado. Or we might create a situation where the main character is a victim of rape, or is in the midst of a divorce or is about to lose someone they love. These examples are all good ideas; any of these scenarios could produce a very strong plot.

But, if you want to create something a bit different, why not think a little further down the road and write about what happens next? What Is Forgiven is a gripping novel about characters who struggle to survive in a war-ravaged country and rebuild their lives. The war is over: there’s no fighting, no bombing, no large scale death and destruction. Yet the author creates a story full of tension and drama about characters dealing with the war’s aftermath.    

So, in order to create a plot that’s a bit different, imagine what happens after the event or situation you first thought of. Can you build a gripping story by examining what happens next? Using the example of a main character who is a rape victim, tell the story of how she rebuilds her life after the attack or how she sets out to get revenge against her attacker. The former scenario might produce a work of women’s fiction and the latter might be a crime novel. Of course the victim doesn’t have to be female either which would add another dimension to the story. Or, if you choose the scenario where a character loses someone they love, examine what direction their life takes after the bereavement. The path they take doesn’t have to be a traditional, obvious one. Think outside the box and create a vastly different new life for your character to the one they lived before. A character that takes a sharp turn in their life’s path will definitely give the writer lots of scope to create an engaging story.

If you start with a dramatic event such as a war or a natural disaster as a catalyst for your story, think about what happens after the event is over and find the drama within this to create your story. How does your character survive and how do they feel if they have lost everything in a war or disaster? Or maybe a particular loss frees them from someone or something they wanted to escape from. How does their life change in the face of this?

I’ve chosen ‘After the Fact’ as the title for this post as it sums up what I’m trying to say. The idiom refers to something that happens after a particular occurrence or event. It will remind you when you are plotting a story to think past the first dramatic scenario that runs through your head and see if something that happens further down the road in the character’s life might be a better place to start a story. 

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