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Archive for 'Plotting'

Monday, February 13th, 2017
Writers Club: Plotting

Plot is necessary for novels. This seems like a no-brainer. It’s the causal sequence of events in a book: This happened because this happened because this happened and so on. Events happen, problems, conflicts, and everything escalates until there’s a final conflict and resolution. Usually there is at least one secondary plotline, and often more. After all, most people have more than one thing going on in their lives.

Here’s the trouble, at least for me: I often have trouble developing the plot in advance. More often, my brain wants to see what happens as I go along. In some respects, I think this is because I’m out to entertain myself with my stories. I don’t want to know what happens in advance any more than my readers do. I want to discover as I go. I’ve a friend who calls the first draft the “discovery draft.”

The trouble with not knowing the plot is that you make a lot of wrong turns and go off to random spots, find hidden trails, and sometimes–even often–find treasures you never knew you were looking for. That makes writing exciting. It also makes it stressful. You always wonder where you might end up. Will the book make sense? Will it become a well-woven whole or will it be a mess of spaghetti dripping over the edge of the plate?

I would like to work with a plot outline. I’ve tried a lot of different methods. I used to be able to establish the major plot points that I wanted to hit on and then I could navigate toward those points, weaving in the secondary plot lines as I went. But my brain refuses to do that much anymore. I’ve been working on tricking myself and forcing out a plot outline. And of course, it always changes and is never correct. In fact I don’t really expect it to be, which ought to sound bizarre–I mean why do it at all? But having a sense of the path does help.  It frees my mind to play a little bit. Knowing that, I don’t know why I can’t just write down a possible plot direction. I’m such a weird contradictory mess in that regard. A plot outline frees me, but writing it feels like I’m fixing it permanently in place and my brain rebels.

In order to make myself do it, I focus on projects that I’m not planning to write right away. That takes the pressure off getting it done to try to get it written. It lets me play with the story in my head for awhile, and lets me be goofy with the possibilities. That last often gets me to where I want to be–an original plot line. I get acquainted with my characters, developing who they are until they feel real to me and have a voice and I know what they would and wouldn’t do, which of course leads to more adventures.

I wish the process didn’t have to be so messy, but it is and I just have to suck it up. So this is me, sucking it up. *dives back into the mess*

(crossposted from the BVC blog)

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013
Character killing

As those of you who watch The Game of Thrones, this week showcased The Red Wedding scene. If you haven’t scene the episode or read the books, you probably don’t want to keep reading. Not that I’ve watched it, but I intend to talk spoilers all the same. Anyhow, GRRM did an interview, which you can read here, discussing that scene and killing characters. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Done? Okay. I’ve been thinking about killing characters and what a writer owes to readers and what a writer owes to the story. Does the writer owe anything to a reader except a good story? Or does she owe live characters? I know that a lot of readers, me included, hate it when beloved characters get killed off. Nancy Kress said once that she gets tired of characters and kills them so she can begin fresh. You’ll see in that interview that GRRM says:

I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.

I find that a really interesting statement because he knew early on he wanted to kill the characters off, not because the story dictated it, but because he wants unpredictability. I get that. When stories are predictable, readers can lose interest or get bored. He also says in this piece he wanted to really highlight the darkness in the world and the evil, along with the joy. On the other hand, knowing you’re going to kill characters early on can change the story you want to tell in such a way that you don’t tell that story, but a different one. Also not a bad thing, if you’re okay with that. It also means that you will build up their deaths to really be emotional crescendos, as is The Red Wedding.

This isn’t the way I write. I wonder if it could or should be? But that brings me back to my particular audience. Will my audience forgive me killing off my main characters? Will they still with me? Or would I build my audience if I killed off more people? I have killed off characters I love. I’ve also changed them in devastating ways. But I know that I wouldn’t kill Max or Alexander. Well, maybe I would Alexander. Is it bad that a reader knows that going in? Or suspects it? Of course, that might not apply to all books. It depends. I think part of what it depends on is how many characters there are to carry the story. If a reader is completely invested in only one or two characters and one of those dies, then that’s a difficult thing to swallow. But if there is a cast of many and a reader is invested in a number of characters, losing a few beloveds might not hurt as much.

I’m trying to think of other authors who kill of important characters. Well, JK Rowling is obvious. I should mention I haven’t read this far in the GRRM books. Mine got packed when I was decluttering a couple of years ago for moving (yes, the house has been on the market that long), and I was already behind on my reading. Plus I wanted to wait for more of the books to come out. Anyhow, I’m wondering if I will like the books. I have to say, though, that what I know of The Red Wedding scene means that it will be a gut punch to the reader. Even without investment into the characters, it’s a deeply affecting moment. It can’t help but be (and it’s awful and yet wonderful that it draws on real events. Humans are so terrible).

What do you think? As readers and/or writers? What do you think of killing characters? Of how to approach it? I’m really curious about your thoughts.




Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
writing series and trilogies

I forgot to mention I have a post up on Magical Words today about writing a series and trilogy and how to plan them out.

Thursday, June 21st, 2012
Writering angst

I’m working on another project, working title Soul Mage. It’s traditional fantasy. Here’s the Pinterest board on it if you’re interested. Anyhow, I had the entire thing plotted and was starting to write the initial chapters, when another character stepped onto the stage, bringing a whole lot of other baggage and interesting complications. So right now I’m going through my character descriptions and developing each of them in specific.

What I’ve run into is that the character who stepped onto the stage turns out to be extremely fascinating, complex, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to like him. He did something very bad. Very. I get why, but I’ll tell you what. When I wrote that bit I wanted to backtrack and change it. No, he didn’t really know what he was doing. But then I realized that it’s far more powerful if he did. If he knowingly made that choice. I gotta say, though, this takes me out of my comfort zone. I’ve also got some other bad stuff happening with characters. Tough things.

One of the things that I know as a writer is that whenever something makes you uncomfortable, that’s the time to press harder on it and make it hurt. That’s where the power is and that’s where a lot of interesting things happen. It’s much easier to shy away from it and shift it so that it isn’t as bad, but that robs you as the writer and it robs the readers and it robs the story. Pursue the painful. Don’t duck it.

That said, this is going to be hard to write. Not just subject-wise, but to keep myself pushing at that element and not ducking it, and also to do it justice.

Friday, April 27th, 2012
and the cold came back

We’re under a winter storm watch. Again. I don’t think we’ll actually get snow, but it had to come the night before the girlie’s birthday party. To which people have still not RSVPed, so I don’t even know if anyone is coming. I desperately hope so, and not just because of the mass of cake that I’ll be forced to eat if not. I do have some games to play, so that will be excellent. I also have a fire going in the woodstove and am hoping that frost doesn’t kill all the leaving out plants. Poor things. A few days ago it was almost 80 degrees.

IN the meantime, I got notes from my editor on Blood Winter today. I have to read and absorb them. He’s a new editor to me and he pointed out some issues that I had figured out and offered some intriguing suggestions. So I have to put all that together with some ideas I had for restructuring/revising, and polish the coal off my diamond. I’m excited about it, but with that everpresent fear that I won’t be able to pull it off. But I will! I’m determined.

In the meantime, the block ends in a few days, as does the semester. Hard to believe. But Twisted Ink, our webzine, is coming together nicely. They are doing a good job, as crazy as it’s making them.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
mythical birds

I spent some of yesterday and today researching mythical birds. I have this scene in mind where they do an Alfred Hitchcockian sort of attack on *name redacted*. I have this picture in one book of the perfect birds. But even though it’s in a book of magical critters and such, there’s no actual reference to them. Yes, I can make something up, but I like going with real creatures (well, you know, real fake creatures). Plus these are so perfect!!! Anyhow, I did run across some very cool possibilities. One is bird hieroglyphs that come to life and chomp the heck out of people. I like that one.

I couldn’t access the Aberdeen Bestiary for whatever reason. It is a very cool bestiary with lovely illuminated images and so I’m going to try again later tonight or tomorrow. Doing this research is totally fun. This is a case where serendipity is my friend. I page through the books or dig through bestiaries and so on, and I encounter all sorts of rich tales. They spark ideas and one thing leads to another . . .

I did up my department’s website. I have to use a program called Genesis, which is like a hacked down version of a decade’s old Front Page. It was weird after using more modern methods. And wow, it added tons of extra weird code stuff. Luckily I could play with the code and get rid of a lot of it. I was going to do a lot more updating, but there’s a chance of switching over to another system that’s more flexible (not sure what it is, but it might be WordPress) and so I’m waiting. No point in doing it twice. I’m the only one in our department who likes to mess with website stuff.

Oh, and speaking of which, do you know how outdated this Genesis program is? I can only use it on a PC with Explorer. No Firefox, no Chrome, no Mac at all. It simply won’t let me log in. How funny is that?

The girl’s birthday is tomorrow. Her party is on Saturday. I’m not entirely prepared. She also got her new glasses today, which are not pink believe it or not, and she can actually see again. She’s very excited. I just hope kids come. I haven’t had RSVPs yet. I’m a little worried.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012
The beat goes on

Today I’ve been trying to think up magical problems. Specifically, really big magical problems. And I’d be more specific, but that would mean spoilers. The problem is thinking up the right magical problem for the characters and situation and that leads to a specific outcome. The only trouble is that I’m not coming up with any serious contenders. Well, actually, a couple of possibilities, but not how I might make them work. I need to stretch my magical thinking.

In the meantime, I’ve got a post on attacking revisions/novels on Magical Words today. It’s about eating the cheese.

In the meantime, we’ve had bizarrely warm weather and some thunder showers. That’s pretty cool. I like thunderstorms, especially if they don’t come with round winds. Round winds I hate with a passion.

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Some of you will remember that I have a big whiteboard that I use for keeping track of characters, making notes, plotting, and whatever I happen to need in terms of writing. It’s freestanding and I can flip it over and use both sides. I’m about to put it to use to replot the beginning of Blood Winter. Toward that end, today I shopped for some office supplies. I bought a bunch of magnets shaped a bit like pushpins, and I bought some index cards because I was out, and a bunch of colored sharpies. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

I’m going to write down different plot possibilities for different characters in different colors and play the puzzle game where I align them in order until I have a satisfactory replotting of the story. The thing about this book was that I mostly pantsed it. It refused to follow the plot ideas I had and it refused to give up what it intended to do until I wrote it. So I wrote it to find out what had actually happened. Now that I know and have some time to think about things, and now that I have feedback from my agent, I can see some places where I need to replot.

I plan to do this this weekend. I’ve not done this particular method before (hence me needing to go supply shopping), but I’m looking forward to the process. I’m going to start by brainstorming all the possibilities for the various characters and the events, and then start moving things around, taking into account what I want to keep and how I want to shift things up. I have a feeling I’ll be tossing cards on the floor as I get rid of ideas. The cutting room floor, as it were.

I’m hoping it works. In the meantime, I’ve finished the maps on the other project I’m working on and finished one character interview and am now working on another and also noodling around with some more plot stuff. I’ve been figuring out a lot of world details in the process. I’m excited about that. I’d try out the plot card puzzle idea on that one, but I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of the main plot. I just need to get down the details, but that happens in the writing.