Plotting your story

Last LightLet me save you some time. Its what I’m here for.

You want to plot your story. Maybe you don’t know the first thing about plotting. Maybe you know everything there is and you’re here to prove how little I grasp it. You’re both on the right track. If I were an expert at this, my stories would be readable and published, not rejected and meandering. I know I can fix my meandering, because this is the year of doing, not trying, right?

First, let me save you some research. If you’re in the boat where you think you’re having plotting problems, then you’ve already examined your characters and setting. You’ve already looked at your premise, possibly even having written out a good chunk of your opus already. I won’t tell you you have to trash all of that, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Instead, let’s start fresh for a moment.

Where does the story end? What’s the endgame, the final result, that closing scene that clinches your story? If you know this, you are going to be golden.

What is the opposite of the ending state? Simplisticly, a story is about growth and change. To obtain a goal, we must first start without it. To lose something, we must first have had it. So it is that the beginning of a story should be the opposite state of the ending.

What was the turning point between beginning and end? Yep. That simple. What was the turning point, the fulcrum where we went from not having to being on the road to having?

What happened between these points? What happened between the beginning and the middle? The middle and the end?

Sounds simple. I know it sounded even better when Dan Wells discussed it in his video lectures. You should watch them, not read my blog. But just in case, here are some references on plotting I think you’ll appreciate:

  • Dan Wells on story structure – youtube finally has a purpose. Video lectures that don’t involve cats, mineral water from Slovakia, or pop culture .
  • I also like this storyboard for writers video – really, its the same thing, but with different words. And a giant W.
  • Reading may be your thing. I understand. For whatever reason, this five step method really spoke to me, probably because its a variation of the above two in a lot of ways. Or maybe because it started with a step 0, figure out what the heck you’re going to write.
  • Here’s an 8 step program approach. Really, all of this says the same thing as this simplified “what’s your plot” article, I’m just trying to save you some time with the search engine.

And that sums up the mechanics lesson of plotting.

Herein I make a bold admission

Mechanics are easy. We all know them. It’s when you’re deep in the weeds and can’t see straight that you need this kind of information, and at that point you can’t see past your own chin, let alone whether you are in denouement or midpoint 2 or whatever. I know. I have more than one “mostly finished” novel, each of them between 75 and 100k words in length, and every one of them suffers the same inherent flaw that my short stories usually suffer from: they lack a structure.

To be sure, there’s a story in there. Really, you can’t read three lines before you are smacked with the storyness of it all. It oozes off the page, stains your fingers, and leaves an odor that even febreze can’t beat. The problem is that each piece, while obviously part of a larger story, is a segment without a body.

In other words, I may not be the pantser I think I am. In fact, I’m probably not. And maybe you aren’t either, my fellow frustrated writer. Its ok. We’ll make a club and get drunk together. Because if we’re not pantsers, you and I, then that means we have to step back from our stories for a moment. We can’t just blindly slap words down like we always have, hoping that if we can get enough wet clay smacked down hard enough and fast enough, we can form a perfect vase or urn or whatever it is we think we’re making with wet clay and a fuzzy memory of Ghost in our heads.

We have to do some planning. Some plotting. And maybe this long article wasn’t as big a waste as we thought it was, because it brings us back to finding structure. A story isn’t segments, it’s a snapshot of a fluid whole, a river caught midstream and we’re just along for the ride. I’ve admitted this need to plot, to, oh gods, outline, before, and then either omitted it from my memory, or just plain turned my back on it. I can’t do that anymore.

Now I want you to think on that, writer pals of mine. I’ve been doing these blog entries nearly daily (well, nearly nearly almost), but I think I’m going to need some of that time back. Because I need some galoshes, and some time with the river of words. Anyone coming along with me for this ride?

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Plot Paradox

Crap.

I have three plot threads that I’m working on right now, and when I go to arrange them I realize that all three depend on each other having already happened.

Crap.

I mean, seriously – how do I have three subplots that are all dependent on each other having already happened??? Stupid, stupid, stupid write by numbers!!

[update]

Well, that existential crisis was thankfully short lived. And see, this is why I don’t blog often – usually when something strikes me as blog worthy, by the time I get around to typing it up its less pertinent. In this case, if I’d just held off for a while, it barely would have qualified as an amusing comment.

So, ah, instead, why don’t you go over to Neal Asher’s blog and watch the video clip where he answers my question on his first break into publishing.

http://theskinner.blogspot.com/2009/12/neal-asher-video-clip-1-201209.html

Day 9: Doldrums

Facing a severe case of the doldrums with my novel. I’m just shy of 20k into it, and I find myself severely bored with what I’ve done to date. A big problem with it is that I honestly don’t know where its going. For a short story, its fine to start writing without a direction. Generally speaking, by the time you find your point, well, pen down, your done! Like marriage and fatherhood, there are lessons in writing that can only be learned the hard way, through experience.

And experience is telling me my story is committing suicide as we speak.

Not even teen angsty, glitzy suicide, with drugs and rock and roll, but cliche ridden suicide. My characters are literally running from one cliche to the next, not even taking the time to exploit the cliche they find themselves in before running to the next. Characters? Hah! There’s no depth to these one dimensional fascades that is worthy of the moniker of “character.” Caricature is more like it, cheap depthless shells barely containing a modicum of emotional reaction to the story unfoldinfg around them.

So where to, Oh Captain? To forge ahead and see if I can recover as I go? To start anew, perhaps this time with a semblance of a “big idea,” maybe even (say it isn’t so) a plot?

I honestly don’t know. My gut says better to start fresh, wipe the slate and find the story for real this time. My accountant taps his foot, points at the clock, and points out the time already invested that’s been lost if I do that.

Damn it.