Sunday, April 29, 2007

Plot. . . or Not?

I’ve had plot on the brain for awhile now, and Thomma’s recent post on the subject has given me food for thought.

I usually outline my novels. Not grand, detailed outlines that serve as straightjackets, but guidelines. It's like giving my characters a map and saying, “Here’s where you should end up, and here are some places I recommend you stop along the way.” Then I sit back and let them figure out their own journey, only stepping in if they look like they’re getting too far off track. A stop in Denver while on the way from New York to Los Angeles is fine. But a sudden whim to see Quebec is suspect.

You get the idea.

Unfortunately, the story I’ve been working on for the past year (has it been that long???) has given me fits due to the way I jumped into it without much of a plan. What’s worse, I wasn’t even entirely clear what the story was about. Was it a revenge story? Was it romance? Was it anti-romance? The theme changed several times, and the unsurprising result was a tale that didn’t seem to know what it was supposed to tell. I had two major plot arcs, and they didn’t compliment each other, making for no clear overarching theme.

Yay, me.

I put the first draft aside and spent five months on the Diana’s Diary project, hoping that if I better understood what happened to my favorite character after the action of my meandering WIP, I could go back with a clearer head and clean it up.

No such luck.

What to do? Clearly I needed to pick a plot and stick with it. But plotting has always been my nemesis. I can ramble cheerfully along for page after page, developing characters that never do much of anything.

So I read Thomma’s post, and it just so happened that I had read something elsewhere (maybe on Absolute Write) that had me thinking along the same lines. Since plot was already taking up a lot of space in my head, I forced myself to really confront the issue this weekend. And much to my surprise, the problem wasn’t plot at all. The reason I couldn’t develop a coherent plot was because I lacked a coherent. . .

Theme.

Yep. That was it. I couldn’t make up my mind what the story was about, so of course I couldn’t decide how to accomplish it. Duh.

So I think I see a way clear to cleaning this story up. This isn't the novel I thought it was, but I think I secretly knew that all along.

The timing of this revelation is perfect, since I’m going out of town in a couple of weeks. I’ve found that I don’t get much new writing done while on vacation, but I like to edit and tinker.

I'm excited about this new development in my writing. It feels good to know what the heck I'm doing!

5 comments:

Michael said...

Even with a plan I get all tangled up. Good luck with that story, Bunnygirl.

Crabby McSlacker said...

This sounds like a great breakthrough.

BTW, I loved your travel metaphor in terms of outlining. I may personally hate stopovers and detours when I fly, but my characters are quite happy to go from SF to NY by way of the antartic.

writtenwyrdd said...

Themes are good and useful, I'll grant you bunny. Just be aware that if you let the theme intrude into the story in an obvious way, as in for example your characters mouthing rhetoric to support it, you have let it get away from you.

I'm sure you'll notice if you start getting preachy, but I thought I'd mention the possibility. I recall that as teh biggest turn off for me when in one of the several writing workshops I've been involved in. (Shuddering.)

Thomma Lyn said...

That's awesome, bunnygirl! I love having revelations re: my writing process. They are so empowering!

And guess what! You've won a Thinking Blogger Award. Come by my blog for details. :-D

Alice Audrey said...

I always use theme as a touch stone during my writing process. I generally have a gist of the theme when I first start thinking about a book. Some books I've written with no preparation at all. Theme was my only salvation on the rough drafts of those. I've written books with the GMC and emotional arcs for most if not all scenes detailed before word one. Theme influenced the outline.

Once I'm on revisions I clarify the theme for myself. Sometimes I find I have more than one theme and then much chose which should be rendered most clearly. My theme evolves along with the revision.

My revision process is intensive. For one book I threw out everything I'd done before and took the basic plot with some minor changes and rewrote it from scratch. On most books I throw out half the words I originally wrote. It can get hairy.

In ever case when I need a guiding light, I turn to theme.