Issues of Plot

Chemanius murals - Guenette photo

I’ve been pondering issues of plot. I often describe my novels as character driven rather than plot driven. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my books have no plot.

I recently read a post on Writers Helping Writers that has me thinking – why the emphasis on character over plot? Guest poster Dario Ciriello quotes C.J. Cherryh, a multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, defining plot. “… a webwork of tension-lines between characters and sets of characters. You pull one [line] and one yanks several characters. It’s not events [that drive plot]. It’s tensions.”

Okay – music to the ears of the writer of self-defined character driven novels! The tension between characters drives plot. A character driven novel with enough tension is by it’s very nature developing plot as it goes.

The Writer’s dictionary defines plot as the way an author structures a series of events into a story. Typically, an author works at organizing events in a way that will pique the reader’s interest. Usually events are not resolved until near the end of the story. “A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.”

Literary devices website   describes the five main elements of a plot. Before I list their points and add my thoughts, remember that plots are often broken into sub-plots and maybe even sub-sub plots. The whole idea of the web works well for me.

1. The exposition or introduction – characters and settings are established. The conflict or main problem is put on the table. I usually think of getting all the players on the board.

2. Rising action – series of events build tension and increase conflict. Once all my characters are on the playing board, it is inevitable that they interact and create tensions.

3. Climax – main point of the plot. This is where all the tension has been leading. I often envision the climax as a set of waves. I might have three or so climaxes before the main one, each wave crashing on the shore of the story a bit harder than the last.

4. Falling action – the winding up of the story. With a character driven novel that creates tension between sets of characters, this is a challenging stage. All the loose ends need to tie up. Well, except for those I choose to leave open-ended.

5. Resolution – good or bad, up or down, happy or sad. Endings should be satisfying. That doesn’t necessarily mean the reader agrees with how everything went down. It’s more about knowing I did a good job of making the events believable. Given what I described and the characters I let the reader know – the story makes sense.

I’m going to keep considering the idea of plot. But for now, I’m going to keep doing what works for me – multiple characters, multiple points-of-view and character interactions driving untold tensions. Let me know what you think on the issue of plot.

Wildflowers in Chemanius - Guenette photo

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing

Enjoying the Forest

Spruce Bay old growth forest, April 10, 2010 - bruce witzel photo

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. (Stephen King)

Forest trail - Guenette photo

Stephen King’s words caught my eye this morning. I’m gearing up for life after the completion of my latest novel and I feel plagued by all the emotions that go along with the ending of any major project. I brought a ragtag and often chaotic assortment of threads, ideas and character voices into being through writing, rewriting, editing, proofing and formatting. I produced a book that I feel confident to launch into the world. Finishing such an endeavour is cause for celebration and, at the same time, leaves me feeling at loose ends. It is indeed time to step back from scanning and identifying the trees to look at the forest.

View from the repeater tower (2)- Bruce Witzel photo

Time to enjoy the fruits of my labour, celebrate the accomplishments and move on! Sounds like a plan.

Crater Lake Series promo photo

How do you cope with the ending of a major project? Jubilation, conflicted emotions, uplifted, let down?

Is there life after finishing a first draft?

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My title poses an interesting question. Is there life after a first draft? You may well wonder since I’ve gone dark on social media since I announced I had finished mine. Truth be told, I needed a break from talking about my work.

I have not been idle. For an indie author, the work never stops. While that first draft was simmering, I reread the other three books in the series. This was useful as I go into rewrites on the fourth book. I now have the entire story line in my head. As a matter of course, I picked up typos and a few continuity errors. So, I upgraded all the files. I’ve been meaning to do such an update for a while because I’ve learned how to do the table of contents feature in a way that is more compatible for Kindle readers.

A great upside to indie publishing and doing my own ebook formatting is that I can revise and repost my interior book files whenever necessary. The need to do such revising comes up more often that I realized it would. When the fourth book is published, I will have redo the interior file for the third with a sneak peek at chapter one of the fourth.

I’ve now moved through my first rewrite on No Compass to Right. I’ve trimmed down the word count, cleaned up problematic scenes, checked over time frames and rewritten a key event that, according to one of my consultants, was more complicated than necessary. I’ve done multiple searches for incidents of unclear, weak writing.

Line-by-line editing has begun on the early chapters and rewrites will continue apace of editing. This process may seem clunky but it works for me. I’m keeping ahead of my editor (what a laugh!) by reading the entire work aloud and making changes as I go. Much is discovered while reading a piece of one’s writing aloud!

When I can’t face any of the above tasks, I switch gears to work on acknowledgments, dedication and the dreaded book blurb for the latest novel. Nothing tests an author’s mettle like writing a book blurb. There is that moment, looking at a blank page, knowing I must come up with 250 words that will excite, entice and lure the reader into my story, when I realize that my book must be about nothing since my mind is a total blank.

I’m also working on ideas, conceptual sketches and assembling photos for the cover of this new work.

On the marketing front, I’ve landed another BookBub slot for Disappearing in Plain Sight in May. It was March 2016 that I was featured with the first book of the Crater Lake Series. I am eager to share how a second time on the same book works out.

So, that’s where I’m at. Where in the writing process do you find yourself?

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Happy Dance – Let’s Celebrate

Happy young buddhas - google images

This is the last instalment of my Thoughts from the Writing Trenches extravaganza. 170,000 words and the first draft of No Compass to Right – 4th book in the Crater Lake series – is done. Wrote almost 9,000 of those in one day. I was so in the grips of the story, I could hardly get out of the chair to use the bathroom. But it was worth it.

There’s a weird feeling that comes over me as I scroll through the pages – shock and awe. How did I do it? I somehow managed to put all these characters on the playing board of the story then I followed them through to the last page. I think I could write a hundred books and I would always feel like this when I got to the end of the first draft. I went to sleep the night I finished and slept a solid eight, dreamless hours. It was wonderful!

Many thanks for following this first draft writing series. It felt less lonely in the writing trenches knowing some of you were digging along beside me. If you have any suggestions for future series, let me know.

Butterfly sculpture overlooking the lake(2) -  bruce witzel photo

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – IX

Russian kale 3(original), March 20-2017 - briuce witzel photo

A few days along the writing way: 153,000 words – it’s coming down to the wire now. There’s a list on my desk of the scenes left to write and the order in which I want to write them. I estimate another week and I’ll have this first draft in the bag.

I can’t say enough about how using the navigation tool on Word has aided my writing  – especially as I started to write scenes out of sequence. With a quick drag of the mouse up or down the navigation tool bar, using the information heavy sub-titles I had chosen, I could make sure I wasn’t messing up the time lines. And I can find my way through the entire document in a flash. Amazing – not sure how I managed before I learned of this simple tool.

bingo card - google imageI finished up a section today that had me laughing as I read it over. We writers do love our own antics. This scene is at a fundraiser Bingo that Micah Camp is doing with the local Catholic parish of St. Bertha’s. A fun part of the night for one and all is getting the priest at St. Bertha’s to call and then giving him a good natured hard time. For your enjoyment – a sneak peak at a first draft scene from No Compass to Right:

“Hey, Father,” the voice rang out through the crowded, stuffy hall. It was early and the place already smelled of overheated coffee and hotdogs.

Kieran stood on the stage between the bingo machine that sounded like an out-of-control popcorn popper with its seventy-five balls whirling around inside and a large lit up board dotted with holes. He had been pulling the balls from the machine, calling the number and setting them in the board for five games now. It seemed like he was getting the hang of it and he hoped that nothing else would throw him for a loop the way an elderly woman in the first row had when she raised her voice to ask him, “Are you going to drop your balls or what, Father.” He quickly learned that meant turn the machine on and get calling.

He stared out across the tables filled with people wielding fluorescent bingo dabbers like plunging daggers over their paper cards, and said, “What can I do for you?”

“What do you call a sleep-walking nun?” A man at a table near the back of the hall yelled.

To Kieran’s helpless shrug, another person on the other side of the hall shouted, “A roamin’ Catholic.” Then someone rang a huge cow bell and everyone busted out laughing.

And a few days more: 164,000 words at day’s end. Three key scenes to write and then I’m finished my first draft of No Compass to Right. I’ve been writing around and around these scenes for a couple of weeks. The tension is as ramped up for me in the creation process as I hope it will be for the reader. Pushing on to the end now. I see the finish line and can’t wait to get there.

Crocus 2(backlit) March 20, 0217 - bruce witzel photo