Tag Archives: Plot

Ramblings in the Halfway House

I struggled a bit to find a topic for this week. I’m somewhere past the half-way point – somewhat behind my notional ‘schedule’ of where I wanted to be at this time, but not bad – of the WIP (now tentatively titled Heretic Blood) and I’ve sent a chunk of it out to the Eager Volunteers for a check through, but ‘still writing’ doesn’t do much for a blog topic. Overall I think it’s going fine, although I’ve already done a couple of reasonably major rewrites as I come to understand the story a bit better.

One of the rewrites was deciding/discovering that a character who I had originally planned on surviving the book should probably get killed. This really wasn’t a fit of bloodthirstiness (well, not only), it was sort of the most logical or plausible conclusion to an accumulation of actions in the story that all seemed reasonably incidental at the time. Then, all of a sudden they added up to the character being quite different than I originally thought they would be, and their death became the most natural conclusion to their art.

It was one of those times when I feel like I’m discovering things about my plot and my characters rather than creating them, although I know on some level that that isn’t true. However, I’m convinced that there are subconscious processes at work and as much as I find it mildly frustrating at times – it would be wonderful to not have to make these ‘discoveries’ which require significant rewrites and just write the damn story

Maybe that’s what you get from more extensive planning than I do. I know some writers have really detailed and extensive plans of their work before they ever begin to write, either in electronic form or big charts with strings and things going on. I have honestly tried it, but there are two problems. One is that (I guess because I’m somewhat disorganized by nature) my plans tend to be kind of a disaster area, and thus more confusing than helpful about 48 hours after I’m done making them.

The other is that I find making plans boring. Writing is interesting, especially at the start of the project when I think everything about the idea is super rad. If I’m excited, I basically want to stop making the plan and start getting some of the ideas on the page. Maybe this a moment where a more professional writer would be disciplined and do the damn plan and then not have to do as much major surgery on their work once they start writing it.

I kind of suspect, though, that this is one of those cases where everyone has to find whatever process they need to Get Stuff Written and then do that. The more I learn about my own writing, talk to other writers about their writing, and read different people’s ideas about how writing works, the more convinced I become that there is no one correct and proper way to do it. There are basically no rules. There may not even be guidelines. There’s just what works for an individual artist, and you gotta figure out what that is and then do it unapologetically.

Which leaves me with my rather arcane and confusing process where I sometimes feel like I’m in a somewhat uneasy state of detente with my own brain, but it works, or at least works better than anything I’ve yet tried, and thus I continue. I do feel ever so slightly bad for my imaginary person who got flipped from survivor to horribly mangled corpse in the course of a morning writing session, though.

Hmmm. I honestly thought this was just going to be a preamble to another topic, but I should probably get back to Heretic Blood and this feels like enough to call an entry now.

I am looking forward to sharing Heretic Blood with you, since it’s really quite different from either of the books I’ve done so far, and even at this point where I’ve been working on it for quite some time, I’m not hearing too much from Statler and Waldorf yet. Which tells me that yes, somewhat incomprehensible process or not, I should keep at it while that continues to be the case.

Thanks for reading.

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Directions

I don’t have any Big Ideas for this week’s entry, so I suppose I’ll just start off with an update (which was, after all, the original purpose of this thing) – work continues on the new WIP (which I am not being intentionally cryptic about, I just don’t have a title I love for it yet) and it’s going all right. The story is starting to unspool itself, which is cool, although it’s also true that it keeps veering off in some unanticipated directions.

By this I mean that as I start to write certain scenes, I’m deciding that they don’t work quite the way I thought they would, and so I change them around. Scenes that I hadn’t originally considered are shouldering their way in. The order that events are going to happen in keeps getting reshuffled because of both these things. Because (as I’ve discussed) I tend to write things out of order, there are some scenes that I quite like that I’m no longer sure how I’m going to get to, now. I don’t want them to end up becoming lost little spare parts of story, but I also don’t want to force them in if they don’t work anymore. (I can probably repurpose them for something else)

This links back to my topic from a few entries back, because some of this doesn’t feel like it’s entirely under my control. As I’ve said, I don’t always understand exactly where the ideas come from, even though I know it’s ultimately all ‘from me’. So it can feel as though the story I’m telling is a little bit out of control as well, and I’m writing furiously trying to keep up with these new directions it’s deciding to go in. It’s exciting most of the time, and a little frustrating some of the time as well, when I thought I had a really solid idea of how the plot was going to unfold and then I have to reassess the whole thing once I actually get to writing.

Although I will be a little disappointed to have to put aside some of the material I thought I’d use in this story, and I’m still working hard trying to figure out how to keep some of it, I’d rather make the changes than not. The reason the story is going in a different direction than I thought is that I have new ideas that I’m excited about. It doesn’t seem like it can possibly be the right call to ignore those in favour of something I scrawled on the back of a postcard two months or so ago. I know I write better when I’m writing about things that I’m enthusiastic about, so the best thing is to accept the differences and follow the path these decisions are opening up.

In some ways, writing a story is like anything else, I find – you have a plan for how things are going to go, and then due to all sorts of factors, some under your control and some not, things probably don’t work out exactly how you planned, and it’s often better to go with it rather than trying too hard to force things to be the way you originally envisioned. Everything is constantly being shaped and reshaped by decisions we all make, and a lot of times we can’t see all the consequences of something we decide, and most times we can’t take it back once we make one. We all adapt and rewrite as we see how things unfold.

I guess along those lines, I will say (for what it’s worth) that if you happen to be reading this in the United States on the day it goes up, you’ve got a pretty big decision in front of you. I’m sure you’ve had more than enough of people telling you which way to go (and if you’ve read much of this blog, you probably know what I think about it) so I’m just going to say that I really hope you’ll be an active part of that decision, and go and vote. It’s easy to be cynical about the process, but you don’t get asked what you think very often. Now’s your chance to take part in deciding, and I think you’ll regret not doing it.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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I did a little reno on parts of the blog. There is now a list of some Links that I think you might enjoy.

I will shamelessly remind you that my second novel, Bonhomme Sept-Heures, is now available. The glitch where you couldn’t get the paperback edition from Amazon.ca has been resolved, so you should be able to get it in whatever manifestation would bring you the most enjoyment. If you’d like to try before you buy, there’s now an excerpt from the story added on to the Books section. Enjoy.

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The Pitch

Ok first of all, let me be clear about what this entry is not – this is not an entry about how to pitch a manuscript or write a query letter. The reason it isn’t is that I am not the least bit qualified to give advice along those lines. I think I would need to have more than one success under my belt in that regard before I felt prepared to suggest that I really knew what I was doing. I guess the one thing worth noting is that if you are trying to pitch a book to an agent or publisher, even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you still only need it to work once to get where you want to be. So, even not knowing what you’re doing, have a bash at it – you don’t need your pitch to work on everyone, you only need it to work once.

Damn. That was advice. Changing course.

What I really wanted to write about today was a piece of advice given to me about pitching that got me thinking about stories in a way that I hadn’t before, or at least I don’t think I had. I went to a panel session on ‘How to Pitch your Manuscript’ and one of the people on the panel was a guy from Bundoran Press, whose name I have utterly, shamefully, forgotten. Nevertheless what he said stuck with me – he said that a good pitch needs to say what the book is about, and (crucially) that that is not the same as the plot.

I had to give that one a think for a second. But (of course you will have instantly recognized) he’s right. The plot is all the events that happen in a story, but those things, added all together, isn’t what the story is about. I imagine my former English teachers being deeply dismayed that I had somehow failed to take this very fundamental point onboard (or, equally possible, that I had done so and then lost it in the overfilled ship’s hold of my mind) until this exceptionally late date.

However, here we are. One of my very favourite books, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, has plot about AIs and drugs and Rastafarian space communes and chicks with razor blade fingernails, but that’s not what it’s about. Mostly the book is about humanity, and how it is lost and regained. Wolf Hall is not about the machinations of Tudor politics, primarily. It is about power. My own book is not about all the pretend things (that I hope you will soon get to discover) that happen through the course of the novel. It is ultimately about adversity, and whether we despair or persevere in the face of it.

Up until I got that nugget of advice, my attempts at a pitch or query had been uniformly terrible, because I was trying to summarize a lengthy plot in a paragraph or 2 minute talk. It doesn’t work, or at least I can’t make it work. Once I stopped doing that and started telling people what my story was about, I had something that at least made a kind of sense.

In a grander scheme, the separation between plot and what a story is about is an interesting point of view to keep in mind. The project I’m writing now does have a plot, but I’ve already figured out that it is about our responsibility for the things we create. Figuring that out has already helped me determine things that need to be in the plot, or really shouldn’t be. I’m not saying a writer should ruthlessly strip everything out of a story that doesn’t fit its central theme – I enjoy some little side trips and meanderings – but there’s a clarity from knowing the overall flavour you want your creation to have, an opportunity to keep giving it a little more seasoning in that direction, or not throw in stuff that will clash.

Anyway, this is probably all quite elementary and I imagine a lot of ‘Yes, AND?’ going through the minds of readers. I’ll try to do better the next time. I am very grateful for the advice I got, though. I think it helped me find a home for my story, and I think it is continuing to help me write a little better.

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