Thursday, January 31, 2013

plot remediation

for plot-tards like me

I’m reading this book, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL: MAP YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS by K.M. Weiland. Have you seen it? I was attracted by the cover, the sketchy visual cartooniness of it, which mitigates the cheesy marketingish title. (Having spent years writing that sort of imperative call-to-action, I’m always leery of taking the bait).

According to Ms. Kindle, I’m 30% of the way through it, and I’m already drinking the Kool-Aid. Chapter Three, “Crafting Your Premise” has some salient advice on taking a What if … ? statement and concretizing it into a premise. Yeah, it’s basic stuff, but my mind’s such a messy place, I’m happy to step out of the classroom with the Special Ed teacher and have it all broken down for me, particularly in the connection to solidifying characters, conflict and plot.

You see, friends, I am a plot-tard. That part of a writer that bravely marches down the path of most-resistance? The conflict-seeking organ? Well, I was born without that. I’m all, can’t we just be friends? with my characters. I like hanging out with them, and who wants to hang out with troublemakers?

OYN suggests you ask questions specific to your premise and define four or five big moments that will occur in your plot. And then, you dream up at least two complications to those moments—complications that will make your characters uncomfortable. I have pantsed my way toward these ideas in the past, but only in revision, and only after fighting the urge to keep my characters problems private. I mean, I’m embarrassed for them! What if they get caught?

Last time around, I built my little three-panel plot board and sticky-noted illegible plot-points upon until it looked like a colorful skin disease. That helped me visualize the arcs and so forth, but I didn’t do the initial work on blueprinting the premise from the gate, and by the time I’d scribbled on those stickies, I was already invested in my “people,” so the premise and the elements of plot had to serve them. My forte, if I have one at all, is voice, and I like to fit story around voice. Going back to my SPED teacher, if she was any good, she’d put duct tape on my mouth until I came up with the complications to four or five big moments. It’s for my own good!

Now, I’m not saying that this remediation is appropriate for all writers. All you TAG students, you know who you are. Keep pantsing or plotting as per usual, I’m sure your natural aptitude for having darling protagonists open all the wrong doors will spring from your pen like so many frogs (do I sound bitter? Do I?), but if you stutter and drool at the mere suggestion of conflict, pick up (or one-touch) a copy of OYN.

Happy outlining!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Liars, cheaters and frauds. Oh my.

Hey everyone, I'm in Las Vegas! My very first trip here. Possibly my last!

The thing I like most about traveling are the weird dreams I get fitfully sleeping in a foreign bed. And nothing shakes up the dreamworld more than the ridiculous over-stim of Sin City.

Right now, I'm sure you're all like, Oh, God, is she going to detail her dream last night? I hate that! Well, so do I. But hear me out. This one deals with something many writers face, particularly writers in long-standing writers' workshops.

In my dream, I was helping another writer flesh out an idea. The writer was this anonymous guy who tried his hand at a tropey little RomCom and was dissatisfied with it. I took a look and got all inspired and found all these ways to deepen it, strengthen it, get it off the ground. He liked the enthusiasm behind my counsel, but was all, "Nah. I think I'll just throw it in the garbage. I sort of hate the idea, anyway."

At this point I was thoroughly invested in the book. In my dream I contemplated asking him if I could steal his idea and make it my RomCom. But, even in my dream, I decided that was completely unethical, so I watched the manuscript fly off a building (similar to the Flamingo Hotel) and into the great black netherworld of aborted WIPs. I was horribly sad when I awoke. As though someone had died.

So, I guess I have a question to you writer folk. Have you ever been tempted to adopt someone's abandoned WIP? Where's the line between inspiration and thievery? 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

need some mind-fi

It's the new year and we all want to be healthy, am I right? Trot that ass to the gym? Banish the sweets? Do more of this and less of that?

Typically, I'm up for all sorts of rearranging come January. Last year, I timed the launch of my new website with the new year. In 2011, I went on that cleanse. Remember that? In 2010, I pledged, once again, "to write before my monkey mind has a foothold." Ha! And here I am in 2009 with my workshop besties, promising this and that.

Now, I'm not knocking the tradition of taking inventory and forming intentions to better navigate the path ahead. I'm for it big time. And yet. Life, you know, sort of happens. The unscripted disasters. The earthquakes, the shootings. Biology, destiny and gravity all meeting in secret, putting together a powerpoint on the ways in which life will conspire to fuck you up.

A word that gets bandied about this time of year is "balance." Yoga and cardio. Fun and work. Kale and steak. Coffee and cigarettes green tea. Balance. Yeah. I'm feeling that one. Lack of balance, actually. Despite my carefully-crafted work time management plan:
  • 25% writing for paycheck
  • 25% teaching/editing
  • 25% marketing, email-checking, blogging, tweeting and generally fucking around on social media
  • 25% work-in-progress writing (includes research)
...that ain't happening.

The "marketing, email-checking, blogging, tweeting and generally fucking around on social media" is probably, oh, uh, 78% of my office time. If you pull the "research" out of WIP and stick it where it rightly belongs, in the "fucking around" section, then we're probably up to 86%.

Look, at the start of 2009, Facebook was just beginning to get its foothold. Nobody was on Twitter yet. Blogs were ramping up, but not ubiquitous. Pinterest? Not even a gleam. Now, there are all these sparklers and messages and imperatives to join this, respond to that. And don't, by the way, make a mistake because your digital footprint is unerasable. Sometimes, I'll follow a trail that starts with a tweet, and before I know it, I'm up a dark alley that holds no clue to what I first set out to explore.

What I want for 2013 is engagement. Substance. Depth. I want more steak, but balanced with kale, 'cause, you know, kale is good for you. I want to immerse in my projects and not write myself into a Googleable corner. (Oh, I guess I'd better find out what the world record for the 1500 is, 'cause my character needs to beat it--wait, what sort of training shoes should she be wearing. Better text my stepson and ask him.) Like that. Sometimes, I'm multitasking from device to device, as in:
Yeah, need some serious Mind Fi. So. What's my plan? Do I have a plan? I'm not sure I do. Other than, I think this whole idea might start with reading more. Reading deeply. A novel, a memoir, an article. From beginning to end. With engagement. I long to get deep enough into a book that I forget to check my email, my texts, my Google Analytics. Do you know what I mean?