Friday, August 19, 2005

Plotting--Day 2

Okay, I just want you all to know that as I write this blog Thursday night, I have been working since 9 a.m. yesterday morning on editing Violet Dawn. The whole first draft is now done—and will sit three weeks before I send it off to ye ol’ editor. (Before I do that, I’ll look over it again with fresh eyes.) At any rate, I started yesterday morning, worked all day, all night. Stopped at 6:30 a.m. for a couple hours’ sleep, then back at it. I am now ready for bed. So if I don’t make sense on this here blog I’m posting for Friday morning, I really do have an excuse.

Today I am answering questions from yesterday, because these questions bring up important issues.

That triangle thing made sooooo much sense. Is there a pattern for the pingponging or is it more random?

I think it’s more random, determined by what ideas develop first. At least initially. But at some point you must move beyond the triangle. More on that as we continue to talk about plotting.

Just today I was reading an article about genre; it started me thinking if I should fit my story to a genre or be more experimental. I certainly like the idea of writing a story that is wildly undefinable, but doing so requires even more care in plotting if there is no framework to go by.

Two thoughts here. First, my vote for the unpublished author is to stick with a known genre. It’s hard enough breaking in as a new author. Even established authors will have more trouble selling a manuscript that’s nondefinable in genre than a definable one. So, an unpublished author with a nondefinable manuscript is like a double whammy.

Second, it’s not so much that a nondefinable has no framework. At least, not if it’s going to be worth reading. It’s that it combines numerous frameworks. Let’s say you write a suspense/romance/western/fantasy. To make it work, you’d need to adopt the basic conventions of all these genres and include them in your story. Otherwise the story structure won’t hold up. And to include all these genres’ conventions, you have to know all those conventions very well. This is why it’s harder. It’s a lot for a new author to attempt.

Do you find that you need to let an idea "stew" for a while, so it can germinate? (how's that for a mixed metaphor) Anyway, do you find that sometimes the first thing that crosses your mind is too obvious a choice, and your idea won't stand out from the crowd? That's what I'm dealing with right now...making the idea stand out.

You know I loved those mixed metaphors (MMs). Hm. Been too busy ever since I started this here blog to think about ’em much. I really must start letting my mind flow so I can begin a post now and then with a new MM.

But I digress.

To answer your question: yes. Ideas stew with me for a long time. Too long. I’ll see the days tick away when I’m supposed to be writing, and I haven’t come up with enough of a plot to start writing yet. The reason for me is the same one you state. I tend to throw out ideas too quickly because they’re not good enough. I’m finding this is a bad thing to do. Because my standard for choosing what’s good is that high, fully blossomed and mature standard, such as I expect to find in a finished book. But ideas aren’t fully formed, they’re just seeds. No seed is gonna look all that terrific. So in the pingponging triangle stage, I think it’s better if we allow ourselves more of the brainstorming mindset, in which no ideas are bad. Even an idea that looks ho-hum-been-done can be done a new way. I’ll give you an example. A serial killer story—how unique is that? Oh, good grief, they’ve been done a million times. However, I’m really happy with the way my book Dead of Night turned out, and it’s a serial killer story. But I was able to come up with new approaches to it. In fact, it’s because serial killer stories have been done so much that I worked really hard on making mine unique. I worked in a large subplot, for instance. I worked in the forensic art procedures of drawing the dead. I managed to create a killer with a unique voice. (Okay, truth be told, the killer’s voice came first. I wasn’t even planning on writing that story until that voice said, “Sit down, you’re about to write a rant of a prologue.” But please don’t tell my mother I have such voices in my head, because she already wonders about my sanity.)

So it may be that as you begin your triangle, one point is going to look been-there-done-that. What about the other two points? Can you come up with unique aspects for them that will make the ho-hum point not so ho-hum after all?

Suspense ideas are tough for me because--how many different versions of a maniac can you come up with? I can create interesting ways to die and interesting protagonists, but I always come back to the same nut who was abused by his mother/father. I did just watch a video at work about workplace violence, though. That could be fun.

Don’t forget the killers who are basically normal people who never meant to kill. It could be an accident that has to be covered up, then the coverup has to be covered up, and on and on. It could be a fight that goes too far. A woman who gets mad at her husband and picks up a gun, and pow. All sorts of possibilities. If you use this kind of killer, of course, you have to figure out what will end up making him dangerous to the protagonist.

I'm confused about what to save for the unraveling of the tangled web my bad guy weaves with his story-long deceit. In my plotting, I'm supposed to leave questions for the reader. Right? I have to show his intention to harm so the reader knows he's the bad guy. The reader knows more than the heroine most of the time. I want to throw in his admission of guilt and a fuller explanation of his motivation than has been hinted at so many times previously, but not until she's figuring out the truth at the end. Can I make the reader wait until the end of the story for the full reason he's being mean?

This is a tricky question to answer without seeing the story. My first concern would be that if you don’t show full motivation until the end, the reader won’t see enough motivation to be satisfied. My second concern is the ending to your story. It’s so easy to fall into that bad-guy-explains-everything-just-before-he’s-caught scene. Usually these scenes come out poorly, because it’s obvious to the reader that, although the bad guy is talking to someone (usually the protagonist who’s about to die), really what’s happening is that the author’s talking to the reader as a way to explain everything. The dialogue comes out very stilted. I’m not saying this can’t be done effectively; I’m just saying it’s tricky.

We have much to cover in plotting. The triangle is just the beginning. Check back Monday, and we’ll dig in. (Meanwhile I am hoping for some sleep.)

Read Part 3


Domino said...

Yes, please get some sleep.

Thank you so much for your kind and generous words. I really appreciate your teaching us on this blog. It saves editors a lot of time and paper (not sending out so many rejections). I think I can correct several things so I don't send out a super-flawed story.

You're making me smile. Thanks again.

Pammer said...

Yay Brandilyn for doing such a wonderful job on Violet Dawn. :0) Get some sleep. Again thanks for hitting on a subject that I am studying but having trouble making heads or tails out of.

Hugs and blessings.

C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for sharing all this, Brandilyn.

Anonymous said...

Sleep and rest! Conference comes soon, and we need you fresh and witty. See you there.