Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Plot! (a NaNo update from my wife)

[After one week of NaNo, my wife wrote up an update about how she's doing. She's doing fine in all actuality, although she doesn't always feel that way. She says things, now, as she's sitting and staring at her monitor, that make me really laugh. Things I think but never say because there was no reason to ever say them before. Of course, many of those things have to do with how much of a distraction the kids are, but, sometimes, it's because I've asked a simple question like, "Would you like anything while I'm in the kitchen?" Fire bursts forth from her eyes and smoke billows from her ears and she says something like, "Can't you see I'm trying to write?" I'm considering installing lightning rods before she starts calling down lightning strikes when people speak. So, yeah, for me, it's been interesting to see her actively displaying these things that I generally keep clamped inside. But, really, she's doing fine.]

Wow, I’m so frustrated with my plot. Right now, I don’t have a clue where my story is going, and I'm not sure whether my plot is completely bad or only mostly bad. Well, that’s not entirely true; I sort of know where it should end, and I sort of know where it starts, and I know some action needs to happen in the middle. I’ve also written a couple of pretty kickass scenes. I’m in love with some of my characters (OK, most of them). People have died (I haven’t technically written that part yet but it’s in the plot plan). Hey, it’s a space opera, someone’s got to die.

The thing that is frustrating me is that while I know how I want the characters to develop, and I know what the bad guys are up to, I don’t know how to get all the characters in place and involved in the plot. This explanation of the problem doesn’t even make any sense; how is my plot going to make sense?!

Something that I think I’m good at is the idea of character development. That is not to say that I’m good at writing characters who develop, just that I can describe a dramatic arc in which a character develops, e.g., “Hamlet starts out not a bad fellow, drives himself and everyone else crazy, then dies and takes everyone with him. The End.” (Synopsis not recommended for deployment in a for-credit English class. I haven’t actually read Hamlet in like 25 or more years. Use at your own risk. Warning: Hot coffee may be hot.)

Andrew has been really helpful and accommodating. He reads my stuff when I ask him to, and, otherwise, he doesn’t bug me. He points out that my use of commas is bad (thanks, babe!). Since he’s not wrong, that’s fine. He appreciates the funny bits (what few bits there are in, you know, space opera where people die and stuff), and points out to me where there are potential plot discrepancies or problems. That last part is a very good thing, but usually I have already thought about them and have explanations that I’m working in. In our normal life together we actually tend to talk a lot about plot problems in the media we watch/read together, so I think I’m pretty practiced in this area.

For all the problems I’m having, my word count is pretty decent. I should be hitting 15k today and by the time you read this I may be over 16k, so I'm keeping up on what I need to do. I was able to do more than 8k over last weekend, but writing on work days is really problematic. I blame the kids. They are old enough to not to need to bother us all the time, but they seem to really think they need to. Argh. It’s like they don’t want me to write the definitive space opera of our century, or something!

Right now, I’m working on a plot outline to try to get things straightened out a little so that I can move forward again. It’s hard trying to write when I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to be writing, know what I mean? I do hope I can keep some of the stuff I’ve already written, for example the scene where the badass soldier heroine kills a bunch of monsters and has a couple of really sweet lines. If I can’t keep that scene, I will probably cry. Currently, the plot outline looks like it could be an episode of Glee, only with less fabulous fashion and no singing or dancing at all. So basically take out everything that makes Glee fun and only keep the depressing high school drama parts. That’s my plot. Clearly it does not have enough space explosions or assassination subplots.

I’m also not great at dialogue. In person I’m a good conversationalist and pretty much always have a snappy rejoinder or snarky aside ready, but that sort of thing depends on having a conversational partner. My dialogue efforts haven’t quite yet descended to the level of:

“I’m bored. What do you want to do?” she asked.

“I dunno. What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I asked you first,” she said.

“So what, I asked you second,” he said.

“Shut up. I’m bored. What do you want to do?” she asked.

But I make no promises.

It does seem easier to write out dialogue without putting in speech tags and setting stuff at first. It comes out faster and more like an actual conversation that way. So that’s a thing I’ve found helpful.

All problems aside, I’m going to keep going at it. That’s how you do this, right? You just write. According to Chris Baty in No Plot? No Problem, the 2nd week of NaNo is the worst for feeling like a failure, and if you keep at it then you are sure to find a way to work through your problems and make the word count. If all else fails, I can bring in a computer to explain the plot for the reader. That reminds me, my plot needs some ninja pizza delivery guys on motorcycles.

[All of which reminds me, a couple of nights ago, she was sitting there at her computer and suddenly declared, "This is hard!" I might have chuckled, but all I could really say is, "I know."]
[Oh, if you don't understand that last bit about the computer and the ninja pizza man, see this post.]


  1. Cheers to you for plugging away despite your uncertainties. This must be difficult with work and children both because switching gears is tricky. I do like the idea of killing off characters though. That takes guts. Best wishes!

  2. Don't laugh at her! Lightning might come out of her eyes at this point. Sorry she's struggling with the plot. That's why I outline to death before I ever begin.

  3. Sounds like everything's going smoothly (or as smoothly as you could hope for).

    Stay calm and keep writing!

    Moody Writing

  4. All plots are better with ninja pizza delivery guys.

  5. Heheh, keep writing. Most writing is rewriting anyway. That's what December is for. :PP

  6. I was halfway through this post before I realized it was by your wife.

  7. What Matt said. (I guess we should have known by the bolding who was talking).

    Wishing 'good and productive writing' to your wife. Trying to write a book gives us a much greater appreciation for the writing life and the writer's angst.

  8. Anne: The children are like little containers of chaos!

    Alex: I wasn't really laughing -at- her...

    mooderino: If we can keep getting the children into bed on time, we may survive.

    PT: See, I'm not sure I can get behind that, although I think it might be cool if the next pizza delivery guy we had was a ninja. Maybe a turtle.

    L.G.: Personally, I'm not for the rewriting.

    Matthew: I added into the title; I hope that helps.

    D.G.: Angst? What angst? Oh, man, did I do something wrong again? >runs off to find angst<

  9. Anne - Yeah, it's not easy to get into writing mode at 8 or 10 pm when I'd really rather just watch some TV with Andrew. Thanks!

    Alex - I've sort of been thinking about this story for many years, off and on. Since I hadn't taken the time to outline it before, well, I knew I would never do it. This at least forces me to do some of it.

    mood - Thanks!

    PT - Are you suggesting that Snow Crash would have been worse without the ninja pizza delivery guy? Wow, I hadn't considered that possibility before.

    LG - I honestly hate rewriting. I mostly don't do it; I prefer for my first draft to be my only draft. Fortunately, in the business world, I'm a good enough writer that this strategy usually works out for me. We shall see if I have the interest and courage to do a rewrite after NaNo is over :)

    Matthew - You can tell the difference because I'm the fun / interesting / good-looking one (not really, we just weren't clear enough in our signalling of who was doing the writing, it seems like).

    DG - If by "writing life" you mean drinking lots of coffee and getting to tell people to quit bothering me because I'm writing, then I am already in deep appreciation.

    Michael - Thanks, glad you enjoy!

  10. I think your wife is making great progress with her first book!

    Here's a quick tip for a little make-it-count plotting, taken from K.M. Weiland's book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. That book is seriously worth the money, by the way.

    If you're looking to expose the bones beneath the surface of your story, I've found this very helpful:
    On a blank sheet of paper, write "What if…?" at the top, and then write down every "what if" question that pops into your mind about your characters, plot bunnies, etc.

    Don't count on using all of the ideas, but if the exercise brings to light a couple of details you didn't know before, it's worth the time. Best of luck!

  11. Oh, the plot. Damn its eyes. I'm using NaNoWriMo to rewrite my novel from LAST year's NaNoWriMo, and this is draft FOUR, and I'm STILL struggling with the plot. My boyfriend's advice has been very helpful, though: "When you get stuck, have someone get into a fight." It's been working for me so far...

  12. Michael: There'll be at least one more.

    J.R.: Oh, but I hate outlines!

    Jericha: Wait, wouldn't that mean a book of constant fight scenes? :P

  13. Good for you! Just keep going:) It will all work itself out as you continue to write. Good Luck