Posts Tagged ‘Plotting’

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

October 20, 2011

In past posts, I’ve mentioned NaNoWriMo, and my attempts to make the whole NaNoWriMo experience easier this time around.  With just over a week left until the big event, I am starting to feel more secure in my planning.  I still need to organize my random notes, but I have at least a hundred individual notes that will need addressing.  When you spread 100 notes over 50,000 words, that comes out to 500 words per item (and falling).  That’s not that much.  In fact, that used to be the golden rule for the amount of words that fit on a page. Though I’m almost through the second novel of my adult life (and the third overall, but let’s bury that other one somewhere beneath the surface of the earth), I can already tell that it isn’t necessarily true.

My current document averages nearly 600 words per page.  That might seem like a lot of short words, and it is. Most of these pages contain dialogue that is written in the style of Arthur Miller–that is, playwright style.  There are rarely any dialogue tags, and the action is kept to a minimal.  I needed to get through the chief points of the scene, and I will try to fill things in later.  Stylistically speaking, this is a rather large departure from the manner in which I used to write. One writing teacher–I’m not sure if it was Adam or Leslie, but I’m almost certain that it wasn’t Wesley–said that it was almost as if my characters were mutes.  There was a lot of description, a lot of action, but not much in terms of speech.  He told me to look at an action film, and that the characters were almost always chattering.  When I think action, I think Stallone and Schwarzennegger. Next time you’re watching an action sequence in First Blood, count how many times John Rambo actually says something.  Don’t worry, it won’t be too hard. At the same time, Schwarzenegger movies go from hardly any dialogue “doe, buck, what is it with the genders of the species?” (paraphased from Hercules in New York) to all of the quips that he gives in True Lies.  In other words, I’ll have to find a medium between the Arthur Miller school of dialogue and a discipleship in James Michener description.

Have you ever noticed how characters seem to surprise you, no matter how simply or complexly you’ve described them?  I’m noticing that with my characters.  Eleanor, the “eye candy” of the story, started out as a character that was more or less a character tag for another character (who as of yet is not satisfactorily named). After a while, she received speaking lines, and pretty soon those speaking lines became plot points.  All of the sudden, she’s not a secondary, but perhaps a tertiary character.  Perhaps the best way of thinking of it is as how Pomona Sprout is essentially background in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and then has speaking lines in “… Chamber of Secrets,” but then becomes active in “…the Deathly Hallows.”  Similarly, Eleanor has had little to do in the first 70,000 words of my novel, but she is beginning to become more relevant. If I add a few more elements to my rough outline, she might even become important.  I am still working on shoring things up, and still need to complete the narrative leading up to NaNoWriMo, but it feels a lot better to have direction. I would like to have the luxury of doing a writing burst by the seat of my pants again, but for the time being, I might as well be content with the opportunities that I’ve created for myself.

There’s still that little matter of the title.  I’ve thought of another potential title, “Beneath the Surface,” but I am still juggling these others around.  I would like to get a good title ready by the end of October, so that I can potentially go about designing a cover.  What do you think? Polls are still open!

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The Countdown to NaNoWriMo 2011 Continues

October 13, 2011

Last November, in the midst of my epic first novel, I started NaNoWriMo. It seemed like a great idea, and I’d been toying with it since hearing about it several years ago (whether in college or in grad school, I do not know). Since I was in the midst of a long dry spell for employment, I figured that it would give me something to do. I’d treat writing (and editing) as a regular, 9-to-5 job. In reality, it was more like 7:30 until whenever, but it gave me something by which I could keep myself occupied during those hours when my wife was out winning our bread. Things are different this year.

This year, I will come in to NaNoWriMo having been gainfully employed for ten consecutive months, assuming I don’t pull an American Beauty and start lifting weights and smoking pot in the garage. This employment means that I am occupied from 8:30 to 6:00, assuming you take into account my commute. This leaves considerably less time for me to work on my novel–vote below in order to help me shake the “Tentative Title” that serves as a header for each page. Due to this, there are certain changes that have taken place in terms of my preparation.

While I did my research for last year’s novel, I was still able to churn out 183,000+ words through flying by the seat of my pants and knowing my characters. Henry would always be Henry, and Brooke would always be Brooke. It also helped that there were really only two primary characters, a half dozen secondary characters, and a glut of tertiary characters. I wasn’t dealing with the Fellowship of the Ring here!

This year, I am plotting in advance, and plotting heavily. At the end of NaNoWriMo, I want to have 50,000 words for November, but I’m also aiming for the month of December to be dedicated to mop-up work. In contrast, it took me around seven months to complete my first novel AFTER WriMo. The problem with this little endeavor is that it feels less organic. I was happy going by the seat of my pants last year. I will be happy writing this year, too, because I’m not married to plot points being in order. Good thing, too; my wife wouldn’t go for Mormon marriage.

It is a nice safety blanket, that much is certain. I am busy plotting seven sections of the novel. So far, I’ve plotted three… fora total of 81 plot points or ideas–of course, I’m using plot point quite loosely here. Assuming that I divvy up the 50,000 words evenly (and allow for a little bit of wiggle room), I’ll have about 7,500 words per section. Using that as a means of measuring those three sections, those 81 plot points should cover 22,500 words–less than 300 words per plot point/idea. Wow, who knew building a safety blanket would involve so many steps!

I’ve written additional points in the remaining four sections, but I am having more difficulty than I anticipated in plotting something with this level of detail that is so far ahead of my real-time novel writing. Characters develop, they change. Even stoic characters must change a little, no matter how much they resist. That is the most difficult aspect of it all, especially considering I have a hobo slumgullion of characters with their own unique needs and personalities. In addition, I’d be covering dangerous ground if I decided to change plot points that impact the resolution.

As I was on my commute home, as well as doing some late night grocery shopping, I started to wonder about some of the most recognizable writers and their stories. Did Stallone know that Rocky would beat Apollo? Did Robert Rodriguez really go in knowing that The Mariachi and Bucho were brothers? Did the team behind the newest BSG have a detailed list of who was a cylon and when it would be revealed? I think that these three examples run the spectrum from “absolutely” to “probably not,” and it leaves me to wonder. Some books translate very well to the box office, and follow a clearly discernible heroic arc. Some books get where you expect them to be, but the journey from the alpha to the omega is a bit of a roller-coaster. And there’s the last kind of book. The kind of book that makes you go “who’s on first, what’s on second, and what the hell was I supposed to ask Alice?”

As I work my way towards the end of this novel, I wonder how much I should plot it out and how much I should leave it all to chance. Stephen King talks about writing as if you’re unearthing a fossil. The story’s all there, but you have to be careful how you unearth it. I love that analogy. I also think that writing is a means of making the subconscious conscious, and I am wondering just how much I want to funnel those subconscious processes into a very focused form of consciousness.

As with many pursuits, writing is like life. Rather than jump around from one brain dropping to another, and trying to expound on this one, I’ll leave it up to you to make the connection. How do you like to live your life?