At The Foot of Plot

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 12:38 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I mentioned in a very previous post that I came up with a way to ask something, and it didn't work.

My idea was this: When people talk about characterization or world-building, they get very detailed on how-to -- and often very mechanical; there's role-playing character sheets, for example, or something like Pat Wrede's worldbuilding guide.* When people talk about plot, however, it's all examples and results but very little how to do it.**

What I need is the kind of granular, how-to equivalent of what people do with character or setting, but I need it for plot.


I thought this was a clear and insightful explanation of what I'm looking for, but I tried it out on two very different groups of people (fellow seminar participants and established pros), and it failed utterly both times. I got some recommendations for the usual plot books, none of which do what I'm talking about; I got a detailed and specific definition of what a plot is, which wasn't wrong, but again wasn't what I was looking for.

Luckily, this was at last year's 4th Street, so I also got a lot of good discussion and further analysis of what I was looking for. Part of the problem is that I'm so at sea when it comes to plot that I'm still trying to find the right way to ask the questions, and we all know that asking the right questions is at least half the battle.

It was Skyler who put her finger on one of the key elements: directing/misdirecting reader attention. I particularly struggle when it comes to writing mysteries, because of course plot is especially important in a mystery story. And a core component of a good mystery is that the reader gets enough clues that the reveal makes sense at the end, but not so many that they figure it out long before the detective does.*** And how do you get those clues in front of the reader in a way that they'll remember them, without going "THIS IS A CLUE, REMEMBER IT"?

Including the clue in a list of other things is one way. If there's a needlepoint cat pillow, a blue teapot, a thread-bare armchair, and a faux-fur rug in a room, and in a later scene a blue teapot's been stolen, the astute reader might connect the two. Another trick is to make the clue mean one thing when introduced, and another later on; there's a couple examples I can think of where something's presented as a formative bit of character backstory, then later it turns out to also be a vital plot element.

There are doubtless many other ways; feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

Another good suggestion (and I don't remember whose it was) was to outline/flowchart what's happening from the bad guy's POV (assuming you're writing from the good guy's POV, which I generally am). I may have to try that for the fantasy-mystery that's in the queue, laying out the crime and its fallout from the thief's perspective.


So directing and misdirecting reader attention is part of what I'm looking for. This applies to more than just mysteries; in any story, there are things you want the reader to pick up on without hammering it at them, things you want them to have but not notice that they have until it's time to use them.

I think cause-and-effect is another part of it, but I'm not sure I can yet articulate that part in a way that makes sense to anybody else.

I'm still looking for other questions to ask, and better ways to ask them.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sometimes I wonder if anybody understands plot, at least in the way I'm trying to.

It may be because most people don't really have plots in their lives. They have a series of events, related chronologically if at all, but that's exactly what you don't want in a novel. Characterization they have: If you want to show your character is lonely and feeling outcast, all you have to do is show a bunch of people sitting at a table in the breakroom, and your character comes in, looks wistfully at them, and then goes to sit at a different table by herself. Anybody who's ever been to high school can relate to that. And of course we're surrounded by setting all the time; one of the classic ways to teach yourself to do setting is just to pay attention to the details of whatever places you find yourself in. Worldbuliding is just setting with more Why behind it; if one doesn't have that already, one can go and read a lot of history and economics to develop the Why muscle. But true plot isn't something that most people directly experience. (I suspect pacing might be equally as hard to teach on the granular level as plot; I wouldn't know, because I'm lucky enough to have been dealt the pacing card and so can generally do it by feel.)

I want the "Look at the room you're in. How would you describe it?" equivalent for plot. But nobody says "Look at the plot you're in, and describe it" for plot practice, and there's a reason for that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


* All of which bounces right off of me, because character and setting/world-building are among the cards I was dealt for free. I can't wrap my head around creating either in such a mechanistic, deliberate way, because my back-brain spits them up fully-formed (or close enough to be going on with) without any conscious effort on my part. Heck, I can't not come up with characters.

** The 4th Street seminar was a prime example of this. The romance writer detailed a very specific set of techniques to show a character progressing through their arc; the mystery writer talked about the effects a plot should have on the reader, and listed several books that did this or that plot-thing well. No dis to the presenters, they were all good, but it was the same disconnect I've run into elsewhere.

*** And not send the reader haring off in some other, completely unintended, direction entirely. This seems to be something I have trouble with. ;-P

the new thing

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 07:27 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I'd meant to start Falling From Ground and Financial Wizardry at the same time, and work on them more-or-less simultaneously. FFG is expected to be grim enough that I'll need a breather periodically, whereas FinWiz should be relatively light -- and I've found that if I write unrelentingly light for too long, I start craving angst big-time. So they'd balance each other well. Unfortunately, FinWiz needs research, and I'm having trouble finding the sources I need; it's gotten semi-involuntarily back-burnered.

Meanwhile, FFG is turning out to be hard. Not just the usual difficulty of plots-are-hard; every sentence is a battle, even when I know exactly what needs to happen. Which is doubly frustrating, because it's my fourth novel, and this was supposed to be the one where I knew what I was doing! Granted I had high expectations, but the reality is being a real struggle. It doesn't help that I'm finding myself justifying and shoring up every choice the main character makes, countering every imaginable objection in advance. (I have theories as to why that is, most of which I hope are wrong.) The alpha reader assures me that the end results are actually good, but the process has been a misery. And a slow misery at that, as it's seeming to take two or three days of percolating to get even a few hundred teeth-pulling words at a time.

It's probably just as well that FinWiz is back-burnered, since it's a mystery plot and that's something I'm still learning how to do; I don't need my respite from the hard thing to be another hard thing. But those multiple days of percolating on FFG are days I'm not writing, and that many days of not writing is bad for me. (Especially when even the writing days feel brick-wall-ish.) I need something else to work on during the lag times, but even the short prompt-fic I was playing with is sticking; the main character is developing a nicely snarky personality and I quite like the tiger, but I've no idea where it's going.

So.

A few days ago, I woke up with an idea for a new novel in my head. Unlike with Highway of Mirrors, I immediately lost all the proper names and a fair amount of the premise upon waking, but there was enough left to go on. It's a bog-standard fantasy setting, though I may mess with that as it goes along, with a young man on what turns into a small-q quest and an accreting collection of not-entirely-helpful animal companions. Nothing revolutionary, but it has the potential to be fun. Working title is The Green Ring.

And, so far at least, it's easy. I gave myself permission to play with it and see what happened, and I'm a couple thousand words in already. (Which is a lot, for me.) I had to figure out a name for the main character, but once I got that, other things fell into place as fast as I could type them. Faster. And when I've had to stop and work out how something happens, the answer's come in minutes, not days.

It's strange, but neat, to be working on a novel right after coming up with the idea; usually they have to queue for years.

The real test, though, was whether I could shift back to Falling From Ground once the percolating was done, or if this was just an avoidance technique. Well, I'm happy to say that after a few days of Green Ring, the solution to the next FFG-obstacle popped into my brain yesterday, and I got a few hundred more words done there. Still every bit as teeth-pulling as before, but words nonetheless. I don't want to write the whole novel at that pace, but I can if I have to.

And in the meantime, young Teb is about to receive the first check on his simple little task, and a couple of complications that he doesn't even know are complications yet....
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
Been meaning to post this for days, but fell down the rabbit-hole... including two days spent trying to name a character. Which pretty well describes how the de-bracketing on Chapter 1 is going. ;-P

Falling From Ground = 6149
original short fiction = 96
Total new words in August = 6245

Now that's more like it! Having broken through several blocks on the new novel, I was finally able to get the first chapter going. I'm not at all sure it's right; it may need significantly more revision than my first chapters usually do, but at least it's there. Must get it to my alpha-reader, so she can tell me what I've done.

And a lot of that word-count is because, as threatened, I jumped ahead and wrote the scene that was clear in my head, henceforth to be referred to as Chapter N until I figure out where in the sequence it fits. There's lots of material there to work with going forward. Not so much working backward; it'll be interesting to see if the preceding chapters catch up before it gets carried away.


Worthy of note: Rewrote the Highway of Mirrors synopsis to fit on one page!

Queries sent: 2, including the one that required the dread synopsis re-writing above. Also crossed... one?... agent off the list.


Also: Solicited feedback on various short stories from several people, none of whom were obligated to do it. They said yes anyway! The one who's gotten back to me so far has presented a cat's-cradle of confusion that I'm still not sure what to do about, but at least I'm collecting more data to work with.


Next up:

I need to find some more sources for Financial Wizardry. Among other things, it would be nice to have an alternate thing to work on during the de-bracketing/waiting-for-feedback lulls. Anybody know a financial planner / money manager who'd love to talk about his average day?

Keep querying.

And whatever they're on, 5000 words.

Go.

So, there was July

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 01:55 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Falling From Ground: 252
bakery story: 2158
Total new words in July: 2410

Better!

Non-numerically speaking, the bakery story ("Rising to the Occasion", yes I tried to resist, but there it is) is finished, beta-read, and basically ready to go. I'm very pleased with it; there's a lot of things going on below the surface, as 'twere, there's some clever world-building that justifies my back-brain's insistence on certain features, and I even managed some subtle character stuff that my beta-reader picked right up on!

Also: Contacted somebody about the research I need before starting Financial Wizardry. Haven't gotten the information back yet, but at least I've started the ball rolling.

I had more or less resigned myself to back-burnering Falling From Ground, as it seemed to need to compost more. No sooner had I done so, however, than I recognized what's probably the major thing holding me up. Haven't addressed it yet, for reasons I'll explain elsewhere, but the diagnosis has moved it back up to a front burner again.


So, what's on for August?

- Do the head-work I've got to do to get Falling From Ground moving properly.

- Get back to querying Highway of Mirrors. I've collected another little list of potential agents; I should at least burn through that, AAR database or no.

- I think it's time to get back to quota-land. So: 2500 words, on FFG, FinWiz, short stories, or any combination. That's a nice warm-up amount, should be doable if I only apply myself.


(Admin note: Have I never properly introduced Financial Wizardry, a.k.a. Will Wallace, financial advisor to wizards? I came up with it at that local writers conference a couple years ago (the only useful thing to come out of that conference), but I can't seem to find a tag for it. Well, it's got one now.)

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