Monday, March 30, 2015

Road Map to Plot: 13 Thoughts on Getting Where You're Going

photo courtesy pixabay
"Ay, now the plot thickens very much upon us."--George Villiers, The Rehearsal (drama, 1671)

Travel has certainly changed over the years. When we were first married, we found that the best resource for planning a road trip was the local AAA (American Automotive Association), a place where you could sit across the desk from an agent who would meticulously line out a flipchart map--famously remembered as the "triptik"--on which she would highlight the route with a yellow marker and even make note of the stretches where road construction might slow us down. In later years we made use of Of course now there's the GPS and even more recently, all you have to do is ask Siri.

But I still like to hold a printed map in my hands and watch for upcoming landmarks on paper as we putter down the road.

The process I go through for plotting a book is similar: I like a hands-on, up-close approach, seeking help from those who have gone before and from whom we can draw on expertise. Over the years, I've collected a number of definitions, explanations, and "mile-markers" that have helped map my process on the road to plot, starting with the basics:

1. Plot (n.)--"1. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story; 2. a map or diagram."

2. "Traditional plot has this structure: 1. exposition (setting forth the beginning); 2. conflict (a complication that leads to a climax); 3. denouement (literally unknotting, the outcome of the conflict, the resolution)." --An Introduction to Literature

3. "The greatest gift the Greek dramatists bestowed upon humankind was this: ascending action, climax, denouement...In writing, it's the classical plot outline." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom 

4. "Plot is nothing more than the way you organize your story--the way you fit the puzzle pieces together to form a connected and coherent picture for the reader." --Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Storytelling

5. "Essentially and most simply put, plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters." --Elizabeth George, Write Away

6. "All fiction is about people, unless it's about rabbits pretending to be people. It's all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that's what we call 'the plot.'" --Margaret Atwood

7. "Plot springs from character in conflict." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots

8. "Plot is the crucible in which character is formed." --Stephen Roxburgh, Editor

9. "What happens is the plot. Someone is the protagonist. The goal is what is known as the story question. And how he or she changes is what the story itself is actually about." --Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

10. "Plot is what happens in your story, and structure is the shape of that plot." --Laura Witcomb, Your First Novel

11. "Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality (cause and effect)...It it is in a story we say 'and then?' If it is in a plot we ask 'why?'" --E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

12. "Cause and effect: that's what makes a plot." --Ansen Dibell, Plot

13. "A textbook definition of plot would be 'the sequence of narrative order.' Or, 'the sequence of events showing characters in action.' But in fact, when thinking about plot, it's best to remember what some British school children said when asked what writers they liked to read. Enid Blyton, they said--because 'there's always something going on.' Always something going on. In some ways plot boils down to those four words. Always something going on." --Jane Yolen, Take Joy

So to plot includes a plan, organization, action, sequence of events, outline, cause and effect, character in conflict, and a story in which there's always something going on.

Wow, that sounds like quite a trip. Are you ready to get your map together? What road signs along your route have helped you with your story's plot?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More Advice on First Drafts: 8 Quotes to Inspire

clip art courtesy pixabay
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." --Vladamir Nabokov

Work on the first draft of current WIP is progressing but, depending on the day--or week, words flow or words dry up. Pages have scribblings (I'm handwriting this first draft!) or are left half-blank. We've talked about this before (here and here), but the first draft can seem so...well...blank. I'm in need of a shot of encouragement again. How about you? We're in good company, you know...

1. Begin. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

2. Close the door. "Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer." --Barbara Kingsolver

3. Take chances. "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." --William Faulkner

4. Jump off cliffs--and grow wings. "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down." --Kurt Vonnegut

5. Develop intestinal fortitude. "Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." --Silvia Plath

6. Get yourself a club. "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." --Jack London

7. Raise rabbits. "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." --John Steinbeck

8. Wear ear plugs. "Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better than Tolkien and don't have to try any more. Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them." --Robin Hobb

And keep the end goal in sight, that's what I keep telling myself. Each word gets you closer! Even if the ending holds some surprises you couldn't fathom at the beginning:

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." --Douglas Adams

Any words of advice you could share on staying the course? How do you resist giving up on that elusive first draft?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Timeless Suggestions for Writers, Circa 1950

1950 me
"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." --Ursula K. LeGuin

I came across the following in a 1990 Writer's Digest buried deep in my files (and I thought that publication date sounded old):

"The cover of the January 1950 issue of Writer's Digest..." (Wait! 1950? I was only a year old in 1950!) "...featured this list of New Year's Resolutions:
1. I will write 500 words each day, at about the same hour.
2. I will write for a definite market and I will carefully read and study that market.
3. I will seek only professional editorial advice and ignore what the homefolks say about my manuscripts. (A newspaperman, a person who loves books, or a minister is not a professional editorial adviser.)
4. I will believe in myself and my ability.
5. I will keep abreast of the best work done in the writing field that interests me.

Really, is there any new advice all these years later? The rules of writing are timeless, aren't they?

What fun to go back and see what earlier generations said, see common threads. What will future generations say about the writing of today?

How far back do you go with your writing? How successful are you at 1950-style resolutions?