I was half way through my MA thesis, or so I thought, when my teacher asked: “Margaret, what is your plumbline?” I had no idea – a) what my plumbline was, or b) what a plumbline was.
I knew I wanted to write about my torn relationship with my veteran father who’d died in 1976. But what was my narrative arc, apart from a chronological journey to recover our failed relationship?
What was my plumbline?
One weekend I attended a workshop on ‘Plot’. The teacher explained that plot is different to story. Plot is why something happens. To paraphrase E.M. Forster: story is, “The king died. The queen died.” But plot is, ‘The King died. The queen died of a broken heart.” This happened because that happened.
How did plotting help my story?
I had written about seeing “Jack’s Daughters”, a play in 1983 about five children and their out-of-control World War II veteran father. I revisited this scene and found my plot. I was not alone in having an ex-serviceman father who suffered PTSD (not called that at the time). As a consequence I was spurred on to find others of my peers who’d had similar child-father relationships to mine.
I could see my plumbline, or my ‘throughline’ as it is also known. This gave a sense of urgency to my journey of discovery, driving it forward. Or – I’d found a touch of what Dylan Thomas calls, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”. I’d found my story.