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. . .


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!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Graphic Novels

Years ago when Maus came out, I bought both volumes and thought the “comic book” style an interesting choice. But it didn’t occur to me that there was a whole world of graphic novels out there, and pre-internet, I wouldn't have known where to look for them, anyway.

Well, thank goodness for the internet, I guess. I read a review of Y: The Last Man and started reading the series in February. Dan and I are now hopelessly addicted.

We’ve also bought the first book in the Preacher series, which I’ve heard from none other than the fabulous December Quinn is well worth my time.

I wasn’t much into comic books as a kid, but here I am at the advanced age of forty, enthusiastically hooked on their adult equivalent. This is especially funny when one considers that my favorite type of reading material is non-fiction, especially history, linguistics and sociology.

And now I’ve gone and lent one of my Last Man books to a friend at work. As a hostage for its return, he lent me one of his favorite Batman graphic novels. Oh, dear. If I go getting hooked on superheroes at my age, it’s all over.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Outtake #1

Part of a chapter I removed from my WIP because I didn't feel it did enough to advance the plot. The setting is a post-apocalyptic, low-tech desert Southwest, where drought, diseases and civil war are ongoing. Will is the only person in this scene not using a code name. They young women selected names based on what sounded cool from the little bit they could read on old billboards and ads.

Will found Tiffany and Ikea in the shade of a tree, mending arrows. A few feet away, two solar cookers shone in the afternoon sun. "What's for dinner?" he asked, sitting across from the girls and picking up an arrow.

"Put that down unless you plan on fixing it," Ikea said.

Will took a closer look. The fletching was frayed, so he took out his knife and got to work. "So what's for dinner?" he asked again.

"Beans," said Tiffany. "And hominy."

"That's it?"

"Well, later we're going to look for something we can make a salad with," Ikea offered. "And Galileo is keeping an eye out for game while he's on watch. But--" she held an arrow shaft at eye level, checking that it was straight. "I figure if we just assume it'll be beans and hominy, then if it's something better we'll be pleasantly surprised."

"Which is better than being unpleasantly disappointed," her sister added.

"I suppose so." Will rummaged among the feathers and selected a straight-looking one with tight barbs. He held it against the shaft, frowned, and then set to work splitting and trimming it.

"So did Coyote get to see his train?" Ikea asked.

"Yeah. And it made him happy, even though he didn't get to derail it or blow it up."

The girls exchanged bemused, knowing looks.

"I just wish I understood why, if he likes trains so much, he feels like he has to destroy them. It doesn't make sense."

"Macy says the train has something to do with how he lost his parents, but she doesn't know any details."

He checked the trimmed feather against the shaft again and reached for the pot of glue. "Well, he's the new guy, so I suppose if he doesn't get himself killed, we'll find out eventually."

"Macy says she’s going to ask."

"Why? So she can harass him about it?"

Ikea looked at Will in surprise. "She wouldn't do that. She likes him."

"Could've fooled me. I know she likes his money, but she only fights with him the rest of the time."

"It's just their way."

"Like showing how much you like trains by destroying them?"

The girls fell silent and Will turned to see Coyote walking toward them across the patchy grass. He threw himself onto the ground beside their stack of arrows. "So what are we doing for fun this afternoon?"

"Fixing arrows," Will said. "Or making new ones if you prefer."

Coyote looked at the arrow in Will's hand, scowled and rolled over on his back, pillowing his head in his clasped fingers. "It's too nice a day to work," he said, closing his eyes against the sun. "We did some hard riding yesterday. This is a good afternoon to take a nap."

The others looked at him in dismay. "You took a nap just the other day," Will pointed out. "There'll be plenty of time for sleeping, even with taking our turns on watch."

“I've got other plans for tonight," Coyote said. "I need to get my rest now."

"What are you planning on doing tonight?" Ikea asked cautiously.

Coyote mumbled something without bothering to open his eyes.

"Did you check with Galileo?"

"I ain't no little kid who has to ask permission for everything."

"But we're soldiers," Will said. "We have to work together. And that means telling each other what we're doing and making sacrifices for the group, and --"

Coyote sat up. "And aren't you one to talk? Who found who sneaking around in the woods without permission a couple nights ago?" He got to his feet. "If anyone needs me for something important, wake me up. Otherwise I'll see you at dinner."

After he had gone, the three looked at each other in confusion. "Think we should say something to Galileo?" Ikea asked.

"We can figure this out ourselves," Will said. "We'll look like a bunch of tattling kids if we go running to Galileo every time Coyote acts weird."

"And he acts weird all the time," Tiffany agreed. "We'll keep an eye on him and see if we can figure out what he's up to."

Ikea selected a feather from the pile and squinted at it. Okay," she sighed. "But I sure hope it's not something dangerous. You never know with him."

Fiction Blogging - Redux?

I’m thinking about starting another fiction blog. I had a lot of fun with my first one, and I’m sort of between books right now. I have two that I’m editing, and two that are in the planning stages. That leaves me with nothing to really write in the evening, although I’m doing a lot of writing-related research.

I have a story from several years ago that never quite worked, and like Diana’s Diary, it’s a road trip story. My biggest problem when I wrote it as a novel was that I never succeeded in getting deep enough into my main characters’ heads to adequately explain their motivations. A blog format certainly solves that problem! I’ve already written a few posts, but I haven’t yet created a blog. I’m waiting to see if this feels like something I can sustain before I go forward with it.

If I do it, though, I’m not committing to daily postings like I did with Diana’s Diary. That just about killed me. Besides, I’ve got a vacation coming up next month!