Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plotting, Plotting...

Lately, I've been reading a lot about plot, seeing as how I've begun drafting out my fantasy-steampunk series. The thing is, most of the stuff I read about plot is either too mellow and unhelpful, or too formulaic and predictable. So, today, I'm going to write a little about how I plot and see if any of you have any other suggestions. I'll probably end up doing a little series of these, to cover all my bases.

  • First, plot has to be organic. Events can’t just happen, like dominoes falling in a row. Plot requires cause and effect, just as it requires motivation and desire from the characters. Take for example, Star Wars:
--- Vader WANTS to capture the princess and destroy any chance of the rebels finding the plans for the Death Star.

--- Because of his actions, the princess sends a message to Obi-Wan through a pair of droids (she WANTS to help the rebels).

--- Because of her actions, Vader sends storm troopers after the droids, which were bought by Luke’s aunt and uncle (Vader WANTS the plans back in Empire hands).

--- Because of this, Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed. So, Obi-Wan and Luke set off for the spaceport (they WANT to get off world with the Death Star plans for the Rebels).
  • Second, plot needs to entertain. I know a lot of people really don't like this idea of entertainment and think it's base, but people love to be entertained and charmed, and it's what sells lots of books. At least that's my opinion.
  • Third, all of the plots and subplots MUST funnel into a final confrontation/moment of epiphany/last battle for the story to resound with readers. What if Luke never faced down Vader in Return of the Jedi? What if Rick never confronted the Nazis in Casablanca? What if John Nash never faced his personal demons in A Beautiful Mind? The what if is that the stories would be BORING. Nothing would change, nothing would matter, and there would be no resolution for the audience.
That's about all of my thoughts today. I'll post more on plot as I go. Meanwhile, check out Michael P. Kardos' article "In Defense of Starting Early" and John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. Both are pretty efficient at explaning some craft and theory issues of fiction.

Holding the Line.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Democracy and Spider

With the first few weeks of graduate school behind me, I've gotten my apartment back in order from the holiday festivities and visitors and finished a few arcs of Transmetropolitan. The graphic novels follow controversial and crazed journalist Spider Jerusalem as he tries to make democracy work in a futuristic world that isn't a far cry from our present day. While apathy and stupidity are his two greatest enemies, I can't help but disagree with this charismatic and psychotic character on a few issues.

I know we're taught from birth that democracy is for the people and most importantly, by the people. Even after such a wonderful and historic election, I can't help but feel immensely small in the whole grand scheme of things. I don't email my senator, a die-hard conservative from the reddest of states, Texas. I don't try to get her to care about anything I care about, because I know it will be a futile effort, akin to talking at a brick wall and expecting intelligent discourse.

I do not participate in local government, though I do generally follow the issues close to my heart. I try to be involved in community and to do my part for the environment, but I don't feel like assailing the halls of Congress or even city councils with proposals or ideas. I don't know if this is apathy, realism or cynism. Either way, it makes me sort of sad that things don't work the way they do in comic books or in movies. Any thoughts?

Holding the Line.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

High Plains Writer and Graduate School Update

I haven't written on the blog in a few days because Graduate school got so ridiculously busy in very quick hurry. To update you all, in honor of receiving my loan money, I purchased the smallest, cutest, most wonderful laptop the world has ever seen and a fantastic camera to chronicle my life here in Richmond, away from my man and family.

Also, on the graduate school front, I've been attending a most brilliant Fiction workshop in which we critique each other's work and discuss various theories of fiction. Last night we talked about how, in fiction, we have expectations which are usually crushed when the writer giving us what we've always been given - the cliche expected ending. We're charmed by the writer and the work when they turn the story in an unexpected way and suprise us, even if the suprise is unpleasant. This simple bit of advice and theory has made me carefully reconsider North of the Line and the turns of plot I've chosen for that story. I'll update you on this as these thoughts develop.

Also, we reviewed my piece, given below. Everyone had great critique for me, but I thought I would let you all have a gander at it as well.

Out on the high plains, where the mesas rose up like old fortresses against the sky, red and craggy against the rising moon, the low cry of the lobo rolled up to meet the newborn stars. Lora, her curves and angles beautiful in the dusk, curled up beside Benjamin, her head on his shoulder. He kept his hands behind his head, watching the clouds skid across the constellations.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“I’m thinking I don’t like that question.”


“Because,” he said. She smiled, pushing him just enough so that he would push her back. He rolled her over, pinning her against their blanket, smiling widely.

“What are you thinking?” she asked again, laughing when he slumped down beside her, as if in defeat.

“I’m thinking that I like living with you,” he said. “I’m thinking that you worry too much, but that things will be alright.”

“You don’t know that,” she said. “The doctors don’t even know.”

“They got me on enough antibiotics to down a horse, Lori,” he said. “Everything’ll be fine.” He smiled and it was pale beneath the sickle moon. He motioned to her and she lay back down beside him and there by the lonely mesas, stars fell, dragging fire behind them like signal torches. As the night eased on and Benjamin pointed out the constellations to her, tracing the lines of light, connecting the dots, the radio in his truck played one of those high lonely mountain songs, and the melody drifted out over the grassland.
Holding the Line.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Viva La Revolution

The Year of Books and Financial Aid
Today, I attended my first classes of the semester and then after two hours of being nice and getting nothing, I got pushy at financial aid. I got my loan money though, so I don't mind having to push to get my way. While I like to be a nice person, sometimes a little force is what's necessary to make the wheels turn.

On a different note, I have a stack of reading material that actually stands taller than me (I measured). I have decided that this, 2009, will be the Year of Books. After I finish a book, I will write a small review. Mainly, I want to keep track of this for myself, but I figure I can also give you guys some interesting book reviews. So, first up: Viva La Revolution by Mark Steel.

In this weird and quirky book, Steel claims that revolutions are not started by one group of people or one set of circumstances. Instead, these moments swirl up from just the right mix of anger, outrage, justification and ambition. While this image is powerful, I wonder if the American Revolution follows the same guidelines. Seeing as how we didn't end by lopping off people's heads to carry on our pikes, I would think most likely not.

The book so far, while candid and humorous, it also gives incredible insights into the motivations of men in times of revolution. In my steampunk-fantasy, I've planned an elaborate story about unrest in a world with many parallels to our own, so after taking notes I've got some pretty great ideas.

So, next, I plan to read up on the American Revolution, a subject I haven't touched since grade school because the founding fathers were always portrayed as boring fops - not the tremendous men who founded a nation and overthrew monarchy for democracy and equality. Reading about our founding father seems appropriate, seeing as how inauguration is only a few days away.

Holding the Line.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Magical Beasties and Revolution

So, in the past week since Bear left, the house has been quiet and sort of cold and I've gotten the rearranging bug. I've rearranged all of the upstairs and plan to move several stacks of books up there so that it feels more welcoming. Where there are books, I am comfortable. School starts in the next few days and I know I'll probably have to put away North of the Line for another few months. It's frustrating, but necessary if I want to focus on my writing at university.

In my last hours of freedom, I've picked up Viva la Revolution by Mark Steele. It's a stand-up history of the French Revolution, laying out the basics in plain language, which helps. I'm also reading biographies Caesar by Christian Meier and Mao by Jung Chang. Why all the historic reading you ask? I would like a look at influential world leaders for when I write my main character who becomes a pretty influential guy.

Also, if any of you know if any interesting or informative bestiaries, let me know, please. I'm working several magical creatures into the steampunk-fantasy story and could use a good resource.

Holding the Line.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Plot is Not Thickening

One of the hardest things about graduate school is scaling down the epic stories I've always told. I need to write concise short stories, based more around character than plot. The thing is, eventually I want to write for children and they definitely don't really care as much about character development and snail-pace plot. They want to know what happens and they want to love their characters. I'm not saying children's literature is shallow. I'm saying that the adventure and the story don't get second billing to subtle character development and nearly non-existent plot.

And this leads to one of the larger issues I'm dealing with right now: plot. I'm debating how much of North of the Line I should plot out. I think I probably need to work most of it out before I get neck-deep into the story and find that I've written myself into a corner. Also, I have no idea how to plot a series. A basic books is one thing, but something as large and complicated as an epic multi-volume steam-punk fantasy is something else altogether.

The question is whether or not to plot book by book, making sure I leave enough unanswered questions to sustain interest (i.e. LOST) or create something elaborate and thought through (i.e. Battlestar). Knowing me, I'll be neurotic and continually plot the story out so that I can try to keep control of it.

Holding the Line.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Holding the Line in 2009

Last Year and This Year
2008 was not my year - the stats on my blog show that. I posted less than 30 times, compared to over 100 posts in 2007. A few things about this year were beautiful. Bear and I have been together since December 20, 2007 and we celebrated when he came to visit over New Year. Most of 2008 were stressful though. I moved away from home and Bear and everything I love. Graduate school in Richmond has been a culture shock and many times I wish I had stayed closer to Texas.

Now that Bear is gone back to Little Rock the house is quiet and not nearly as warm. I do a lot of laundry and try not to notice little things like the change he stacked on the coffee table or the cologne he left on the bathroom counter. I can't express how happy I was while he was here. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I'd say that I'm more in love with him now and I know for a certainty how good life will be with him. I'm glad for that, but at the same time, it's hard to be here without him.

His visit jump-started my interest in my longtime work-in-progress, North of the Line. I've drafted a few scenes and currently, I'm working on the plot for the next few books. One of the major problems is that I'm torn between the idea of a trilogy and just running with the story for as long as I can, book count be damned. I'm also working on developing a few subplots and romance threads that have never been a major part of the story.

I hope you all had a happy New Year!

Holding the Line.