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!


  1. shit. i like that book cover too. and i am a sucker with a capital SUCKER for, "here's how you can write a novel" books.

    i wonder...can you apply this to a memoir? i imagine you can define your major moments in the same way you make up plots in fiction...and hope that the complications are there.

    they have to be there, right? or it wouldn't be a memoir worth writing.

    (sorry, i'm rambling, i'm trying to figure something out here that i should be working out on the page.)

  2. Josey, you're on to something. Applying the craft of fiction to memoir (while leaving the facts the facts) is a whole other book, right?

    Have you looked at the Kidder book that Betsy was spouting on about the other day? GOOD PROSE? I need to take a look... but I think that structure is super important in memoir--probably the most important thing to decide. Where to draw the frame, where to start, and how (pacing-wise) to pepper in the "big moments."

    You've read Cheryl's book, right? WILD is a lovely map of how to pepper in the big moments. Of course, she's on a trail, so that helps... But maybe anyone set on writing a memoir can think of it as a figurative trail? With summits and valleys... (Ok, now I'm rambling--but that's what we're here for).

  3. Anonymous4:30 PM

    I love that you were born without the conflict gene. We should all just get along, yes we fucking should!

    I ordered the book. It may have a formula, and god knows I'm always on the lookout for one of those. Are you doing a plot board again this time around? With pony stickers in hot pink??

  4. Ah, the plot board and pony stickers. Yes. I'm going to use 3x5 cards for some things-character cards, scenes- and the pony stickies for plot points. I think!

    Averil, we should compare notes!

  5. Yes! Want to meet for Thai food this week? There's a teeny little restaurant near my house with a mean curry.

    1. Yesssssss! Let's text some days/times!

  6. I'm both a pantser and, as you say, a plot-tard. So basically, I'm screwed.

  7. Go forth and pants-plot, Laura!

    I actually have found that there has to be a weaving between the two.

    I came up with this "new idea" yesterday. Instead of a sticky-note plotboard, I'm going to install a retractable clothesline next to my desk and clothespin my 3X5 cards to it. Each character is a different color, and the clothesline will offer this linear arc structure. I think.

    Anyway, I had this epiphany that my compensatory device needed to be at eye level. If I have to bend down to view it, I'm fucked.


  8. P.S.
    I'm pretty sure I'm a Captcha-tard as well. Is it Captcha, or are my eyes going dim? (3X I had to refresh the Captcha. Maybe I should just allow SPAM...)


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