jeannineatkins (jeannineatkins) wrote,

Plot School on the Porch

A few friends asked for a peek at the plot school I’m running for myself here on the porch, cat and glass of hydrangeas near my elbow. Most know at least as much about plot as I do. The hard part is putting it into practice. Making all the stuff about withholding information, or at least not overwriting, and building on character change ours. This is what things look like, starting from, ahem, about ten years ago.

1. Write a novel based in history, drafting it into what I think is perfection.

2. Hear, more than once, that the characters and situations are interesting, but it reads too much like biography, not enough like fiction.

3. Put away the manuscript and take about nine years to let this sink in. If you’re playing along at home, note that the waiting doesn’t have to be this extended. Just long enough to forget old habits, or ties to scenes that took some sweat. I waited while tending to other subjects, but found this kept up a whisper in the closet, while other manuscripts stayed idle and quiet and done.

I started a rough draft of what I think are key scenes without rereading the original draft. I know. It’s like the wrapped present before your very eyes that you wait to open. I’m not always so good on the deferred gratification, but it helps that I know there will be dialog and details I can eventually plunder. And I like writing messy drafts on warm days. 

4. Here in Plot School, I’m asking myself over and over, how does this scene change my protagonist? Then, when I don’t have good answers, leaving some history to history. Remembering most kinds of love are known by setbacks. Once or twice a day, I tidy these rambling pages. If I could fit them onto index cards I would, but I think of them as chunks that way. Reminding myself that each scene has to have walls or corners, places where people can badly stub their toes. I remember bits of scenes, carefully researched and phrased, that went into the original, but unless I see my character running into them and coming out changed, I’m telling myself to forgo. And be happy with more streamlined action. Some secondary characters will stay in the old box while I make my dear one hit walls. They may be almost invisible for another more plot-driven writer, but feel like high ones for me.

5. How’s it going? I really don’t know. I’ve had talks to myself about plot before and swore I was listening. But it’s hard to get past old habits. I have a high tolerance for lingering and meandering, in fact, it’s a pace I may love most. It serves me well in research, but there are times when busy readers would like us  to move from A to not just B or C, but Q.

My husband read this entry, then sent me a photo he took about ten years ago, when apparently I had already started Plot School, which takes a long, long time.

Tags: writing process
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