Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Value of Real Life in Writing.

I once read a bumper sticker that stated


As a musician and member of a bluegrass band, I can appreciate that. I mean, it could be ideal to sell all I own and simply tour the country full time. But, without having to juggle my work schedule with the band's tour schedule, without having to work enough to pay the house payment, would the joy of being able to go out and perform, the joy of succeeding at life's juggling act, even exist?

Still, if I changed one simple word in the sentence--REAL WRITERS HAVE DAY JOBS--I get the feeling I wouldn't be as willing to accept it.

In fact, I'm fairly sure I'd struggle with it.

See, I've got this image in my head of writing as a solitary, enjoyable profession. A nice log cabin--equipped with wifi and an espresso maker--in some exotic place. Maybe Alaska--I've always wanted to visit Alaska...but I digress. In this vision, I would only have to interact with the people I allowed into my life. I would be able to work as much as I wanted on my heart-breakingly brilliant work of literary genius. I living a dream.

That's just it, isn't it? That's the catch in that bumper-sticker sized bit of wisdom. In living a dream, can we be REAL musicians? REAL writers?

I've got a sneaking feeling that being forced to deal with angry customers at work, being forced to visit with perfume laden great aunts and family members who take a disturbing delight in matchmaking for the younger generations in our family, and being required to do things I would rather not forces me to be real. It forces me to react instead of dream. It forces me to see life realistically--which in turn allows me to write realistically.

It might also provide fodder for my next novel, but that is almost beside the point.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What is Plot?

Plot, as you may know, is the WHAT of the story. What happens to get characters from point A to point B? What happens to get characters from Chapter One to Chapter Two? You get the picture.

However, as stated recently over at Nathan's blog in a great guest blog by Victoria Mixon, plot is more than just a random order of events. It is neatly structured. There is a hook, a beginning, a middle, and an end--all of which should be crafted to create a logical, and hopefully extremely interesting, storyline.

So, how is this accomplished, this structuring of plot?

One technique I have recently learned about is STORYBOARDING, which involves writing out one sentence descriptions of major scenes on index cards and organizing them in the order that makes the most sense. Once this is done, it should be easier to move from major scene to major scene in a cohesive manner. In theory. Also, it should be easier to develop subsequent scenes and etc.

An example of story boarding for my WIP is something like this:

  • main character learns of murders
  • main character finds latest victim's body
  • main character begins investigating in the area surrounding her brother's ranch--finds an old Spanish mine
etc, etc...

After doing this, I would typically fill in the gaps between scenes. Again, we go to the WHAT questions: What do I need to put my character through to get from storyboard one to story board two?

On another note, a technique I have used recently is the timeline. Yeah, it's exactly what it sounds like: plot all of your major scenes/events on a timeline, and similarly to a storyboard, fill in the blanks.

Make sure and stop by tomorrow from more exploration of plot!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Plot Thickens

A recent series of guest blogs over at Agent Nathan Bransford's Blog has left me thinking about craft. Added to this initial kickstart, I've been browsing through Tony Hillerman's book TALKING MYSTERIES. The combination has resulted in something I like to call Plotting Gravy. Actually, I just made that up--and I don't like it all that much either.

All that to say, in thinking of my WIP, I've come to the understanding that the plot should be thickening at all times, kind of like a good gravy. If it isn't thickening, it just won't hold up under pressure. It will sag in the middle, it will leave you disappointed at the end.

Having come to this earth shattering conclusion, I decided I needed to do everything I could to thicken my plot in a successful manner. the logical question--at least to me--is: What can be done to create a stellar plot? How do I achieve that finely crafted story many writers dream of?

So, I've been compiling ideas and information--some original, some from published authors--about plot. Over the next few days, I will be posting on each idea I've come across, as well as different ways of applying the ideas, and pros and cons that I think are associated with the ideas.

In the mean time, I'd like to hear from y'all:

How do you go about structuring the overall plot of your books?