Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking for a Plot

When my agent shopped my first novel around, she kindly reported back to me the initial rejections. (All before I landed a two-book deal with Bantam Books.) I still remember a few of the "thank you anyway" emails she forwarded on. One editor succinctly stated: "This is good writing looking for a plot."

I think about that phrase often, for while it seemed more insulting than not, I took it as a compliment. In addition, I have enough self-awareness as a writer to agree with this editor, at least in part.

As a writer, I love character. That's where I begin inside the mind of a person. I am less interested in the driving plot that makes for page-turner popular fiction, usually littered with death, scandal, sex, disaster and redemption, in one form or another. Now, don't get me wrong. I love to read well-plotted novels, writing them simply doesn't come naturally to me.

What happens to me, my starting point, usually evolves out of a glimpse into someone's life, perhaps a person walking down the road, or maybe spotting a house in the country and imagining the people who reside in it. I rarely spend time in the mall, but it is the sort of people watching that occurs in populated places like the mall that inspire my curiosity. I also love the idea that in fiction we can live out parts of our life we haven't chosen, create a new ending for some part of ourselves.

Plot comes later. I find my characters tell me about their lives, for better or worse. Writing about nothing much happening may not be a marketable skill, but it's interesting. I still remember reading a passage (I think by Sylvia Plath) where she described someone picking her nose in page long detail. Gross, of course, but also fascinating to see the ordinary, and for most of us, quite common occurence played out on the page.

I'm always in search of a plot that propels. In real life, the internal world seems so rich to me, and the tragedy/comedy of life often too far from Hollywood pace to be worth much on the commercial page. Still, it is good for me to try; it is where I need to grow as a writer. As it is, I usually only know the whole story when the book is done.

Any good advice from plotters on how to be "good writing accomplishing a good plot?"

Samantha Wilde is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME, the mother of three small children, a yoga teacher, and an ordained minister. Visit her at samanthawilde.com.

6 comments:

  1. I usually think up plot fairly early, then learn about my characters as they endure the plot. (I'm rather mean to my poor characters). What works for me, is to think about what the protag (or any of the characters) wants, what's in their way of getting it, and what they'll willing to do to overcome those obstacles. That allows me to pinpoint some key goals and obstacles that I can aim my characters at and say "Go!"

    I don't know my whole plot when I start a book. I know those few turning points. That lets me get inside the protag's head and think about what they'd do when faced with that problem. Then I have them do it and see what happens.

    I also flip into the minds of the other characters (even the bad guys) and think about what's they'd do when faced with that situation. That helps me keep them acting believably and doing whatever they need to do to stop my protag. Which in turn makes it harder for my protag and then I have to figure out how to get them out of that problem.

    I write very action-oriented stories, but it works for quieter plots as well. Having a goal -- whatever it is -- and a direction to move toward helps a lot to keep the plot moving. It gives your characters reasons to do all those fun charactery things you want to explore.

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  2. If I absolutely have to write a detailed plot before writing the whole book, I rely on Christopher Vogler's book "The Writer's Journey."

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  3. I love Vogler, Lauren. I also like John Truby's book as well.

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  4. Thanks for the book recommendations, girlfriends. I'll pick them up--give myself a plot-course! Although I have to confess,now that I think of it, I kind of like waiting until the end of my own tnovel to find out where I'm going....

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  5. I agree that sometimes you only know the whole story when the book is done, but that means you can refine the plot in the revision(s). :-) This also helps in knowing how to begin the novel.

    Lauren and Karin: I'm not familiar with the Vogler book; I'll check it out. Thanks!

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  6. I personally prefer to read novels that are character driven rather than plot driven. I love a good character study, and it doesn't bother me at all if there is little or no plot.

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