Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taming a Complicated Plot

I'm still plugging away at the new project, which is slowly coalescing far back in the deepest caves in my mind. Since spelunking is not my thing I have to wait for the plot pieces to crawl slowly out into the daylight on their own, which is not my usual process. I am, however, developing patience, and having some fun doing things I haven't done before to help the pieces crawl out faster.

Two tools have fallen out of all this cogitation that I think I may use again in future projects. One is a scene matrix and the other an impact grid. Being a little anal and very visual, these have been very helpful in seeing how the pieces all fit together to drive a logical conclusion.

I know some people spend hours upon hours plotting out their novels. I never have. It usually just flows, one piece leading inexorably to the next. This one is reasonably complicated, however, with four main factions interacting and impacting each other. As one is attacked or makes a move on another, the other two get drawn in and take collateral damage that no one connects to the overt moves until close to the end of the book. The impact grid is simply four parallel, vertical lines with arrows pointing to each faction that is affected by a particular move. I see my plot progressing and inexorably driving the conclusion through each of those arrows. The good guys shift from getting hammered to hammering in turn, while moves that seem crazy turn out to make good sense. Very interesting stuff.

Drawing a matrix of how each scene contributes to every plot/subplot is also kinda fun. List every scene, by chapter, and draw a line out and down from each scene to the ones farther on that are directly driven by it. You will soon isolate the orphans that have no actual bearing on anything. Don't start whacking text immediately, however. Those may be important world-building or foreshadowing or characterization scenes, perhaps introducing characters. It is always best, of course, to ensure that even those scenes drive the plot, but sometimes that conversation is simply presenting information and its only direct connection is to the characters' knowledge that will ultimately help them resolve the plot. They don't present, in themselves, a direct action producing another scene.

So far all this plotting and drawing reveals a very clear driving thread and three or four interesting subplots with no clear resolution, but then, the book is only half written. Day by day, however, the pieces are fitting more tightly together and the "big picture" is becoming clear. Best of all, the grid, especially, has helped me figure out who the bad guys really are and how their moves will spin out the resolution.

Bottom line: when just gritting your teeth and writing something every day isn't getting you there, help your muse out with a creative end run around the blocks. It's amazing what you can do with a pencil and a blank piece of paper!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Writing Resolutely

I like plants, though I cannot claim a green thumb. The poor hibiscus in my bathroom needs re-potting badly, but it struggles along from year to year despite me. It delights me on a regular basis by shaping one of its beautiful flowers in slow motion, the bud swelling day by slow day until one morning I get up and lo! There it is, this glorious thing nodding over the bathtub. It doesn't matter that it lasts less than a day. The result is wondrous.

My newest novel project is reminding me more and more of that hibiscus. It's proceeding at snail's pace, swelling slowly word by slow word after a slam-bang start in November. It's a bit frustrating but I am slogging ahead, albeit in unaccustomed fashion. I am used to banging out multiple thousands of words a day. Of late, I'm grateful for a thousand. But a thousand really good words.

Like the hibiscus, I'm letting this thing develop slowly, tossing to the winds my usual admonition to just get the dang thing on paper and polish it later. It doesn't want to come out that way. For one thing, it's far different from anything I've attempted before, which hopefully is good, an exercise in pushing myself as a writer. For another, it wants to be perfect when it arrives, and who am I to argue? I think that somewhere deep down, this story knows what it wants to be even though I am not entirely sure yet.

So . . . the keyword for me this new year is resolute, not resolution. Day by day, sentence by sentence, I am resolutely sticking to the plan to get this thing done not by forcing it, but by letting it develop in its own time. Forget the internal deadlines and quash the progress anxieties. With resolution, it will get done.

I will embrace the journey, and hope for a flower at the end.