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IWSG: Intervention

May 1, 2013

InsecureWritersSupportGroupThanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh, I now have an excuse to expound upon my self-doubt without fear of reprisals! If you’d like to join us at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, click on this linky, and prepare to meet some of the nicest writers on the web. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.

Today, I’m going to share something I’m worried I will never overcome. It’s this: I’m a horrible plotter, and even my characters are getting tired of my haphazard plotting. So fed up …well, how about I show you how fed up they are? Here’s how it went down …

***

Image courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez @ stock.xchng

My footsteps echo in the front hall of the Muse’s palace. “Muse?” I call. “You in here?”

“Over here.” His voice resounds on the stone walls. He’s in the library. Of course.

As I near the room, I hear whispered conversations, snatches of phrases like, “… tears of stars … walk in dreams … rock god …”

Then a loud ‘shhh.’

“What’s going on?” I ask as I enter. The lights come on.

Omigosh. The room is full of people I know, although I’ve never met them in real life. These are the people in my stories. Nick Moore from The Tempest’s Serenade stands near the front of the group, his arms crossed over his chest, watching my reaction with concern. On the opposite side of the group towers Teragus Swansong from The Whole of the Moon. The implacable steadiness of his golden eyes makes me shudder.

“Nick?” I ask, because he’s still the one I talk to most. “What’s going on?”

Image courtesy of 'miamiamia' @ stock.xchngNick takes a deep breath. The rest of the crowd has gone back to conversing amongst themselves. Rafael from Lost Wax, with Abigale wrapped in his arms, is exchanging Italian phrases with Noelle, the lithe ballet dancer from Constants, while Aiden, the numbers-addicted protagonist of the same story is immersed in conversation with Griffin of March, the gem collector and heir to the crown from Bridge of Light. Dr. Andria Morgan from my latest story–which doesn’t even have a proper title yet– looks forlorn as she stands off to the side. Despite the ill-fitting black Regulation uniform disguising her tiny frame, she has managed to attract the roving eye of Stuart Livingston.

“Who’s the new chick?” Stuart, Nick’s sidekick from Tempest’s Serenade, asks me.

Andria, with her as-yet-uncolored-eyes narrowed, faces him and answers, “I’m from her latest project— one that actually has a plot and an ending, I might add.”

“That’s what our Writer told me too when she started,” Rigel Mondryan from A Crown of Thorns sneers. “Just wait until she gets to the middle section. You’ll see. It’ll all fall apart just like it always does.”

Andria gives me a furtive look.“Hey, that can’t be true, our Writer has an outline this time—”

“Silence!” bellows Lord Swansong. He steps in front of the melee, his arms stretched wide. His son-in-law Rigel continues to bicker with Griffin of March until they come to some sort of agreement and break out in guffaws.

I spot the Muse sitting on a bookshelf high above the fray and hope he knew what he was doing when he put this gathering together. This many alpha males in one room can only lead to trouble.

Nick nods in acknowledgment as Teragus Swansong begins. “Writer, (because, to avoid confusion, all my characters simply call me Writer.) We’re here to stage an intervention.”Image courtesy of 'deafstar' @ stock.xchng

“An intervention?” I stammer. “For what? The hardest drug I do is coffee.”

I hear Stuart Livingston snicker. He jumps as his girlfriend elbows him in the gut.

Lord Swansong continues, “It has come to our attention that you are seriously deficient in the plotting department. We fear that you will never tell our stories properly.”

“I’m trying, really I am,” I reply. “I’m taking a revision course. I write every day. I read blogs.”

Rigel disentangles himself from his wife Cerule’s arms and stands. He’s wearing his crown, so I know I need to be careful what I say or he’ll be inside my head reading all my wicked thoughts. “Nick over there—” Rigel indicates the dark-haired, steely eyed protagonist of Tempest’s—  “Tells me you’ve been agonizing over his story for years now. Don’t you think it’s time you figure out how to get it right and get on with it?”

“I would if I could, but a novel is so big, it’s hard to keep track of everything. I’m doing my best. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a novelist— ”

Nick holds up his hand to stop Rigel from perturbing me any further. “I think she gets the point.”

Cerule Swansong, silent up to now, stands. She smiles at me. With her silver blonde hair and her graceful yet powerful motions, I can see why Rigel fell in love with her. “We only want to help you, Writer. It’s not just about us. It’s about you. We want to see you successful, perhaps even published.”

“That’s what everyone tells me.” I sink onto the chair that Nick has pulled next to me. “I just don’t know how to stop writing and plan something. You guys just spill out onto the page and I write and write and can’t stop–”

“Which is why we’re staging this intervention.” Libra Duvall, Nick’s mysterious Muse, has left her window seat to stand next to him. “We want to be read, Writer,” she says as Nick absent-mindedly strokes her long blonde hair. “It’s why we exist. But your stories need to make sense.”

Nick continues, “We have some ideas for you. To get you back on track.”

I scan the faces before me. Teragus, Rigel, Cerule, Stuart, Libra, Nick and all the rest stare back at me expectantly. Their fate lies in my hands. I feel so helpless.

41GtFMuVhWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_“I don’t want to let you down,” I say. “But the only book about writing I’ve read is No Plot, No Problem.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered,” Nick says. “We picked out a few craft books for you.”

Aiden chimes in and stands, holding a stack of paperback books. “Here are a few to get you started. Writing the Breakout Novel , Story Engineering,” He winks. “A personal favorite.”

“Well, you’re the numbers guy, after all,” I agree.41zE6Pp83tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

“There’s more though,” Cerule says. “Techniques of the Selling Writer, Save the Cat.

41KYQst9aIL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Abigale chimes in, “You’re going to love Bird by Bird!”

“And this one,” Rigel offers, “The Art of War for Writers. And Nail Your Novel. You loved Memories of My Future Life so I’m certain you’ll appreciate Roz Morris’s advice.

I hold the books in my hands, quite a stack, and see the concerned looks on their faces. “Wow, you guys are the best. I really hope I don’t let you down. Wish me luck.”

***

So, writers, any other suggestions to help me with my plotting woes? What’s your favorite writing craft book?

Images: rainbow of books courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez, talk bubbles courtesy of ‘miamiamia’, chairs courtesy of ‘deafstar’, all @ stock.xchng.
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33 Comments
  1. May 1, 2013 8:59 am

    Can i ask, do you try to plot before you start writing, or do you just start writing and hope that the plot comes together?

    xx

    • May 1, 2013 6:56 pm

      I actually do a little of both! I usually know what my ending will be in a general sort of way and how I plan to get there, but allow for side trips if they look interesting. (a scenic route 😉 ) On my last story, (NaNoWriMo 2012) I even had forty or so scenes all planned out. 🙂 What happens though, is that sometimes new characters walk on, and they’re better than the ones I had originally, or a plot takes an interesting turn and the ending of the story doesn’t match the beginning anymore!
      Sigh.
      That might be why revision is so hard for me. I’m beginning to realize that my drafts need to be cleaner if I want to speed up the revision process.

      • May 2, 2013 2:59 am

        Ahhhhh, yeah, i see 🙂 Blooming hard isnt it! lol

        I had an epiphany recently….and that is that before i start ANY novel i need to decide the structure and the POV, and set that in STONE. If i don’t, i end up in a state (and is why im on rewrite number 4 of one novel).

        I guess what im trying to say is that youve identified your weakness (as i have) and now its a case of trying to come up with a method of working that suits you, and that you can stick to. Personally i think going with the flow and allowing the characters to go off in their own direction is a good thing, but, like you say, makes for harder work at the end.

        Good luck honey! Grit teeth 🙂

        xx

        • May 2, 2013 6:23 pm

          Sounds like a plan, Vikki!
          I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write strictly to an outline–or even if I want to. But I’m hoping that at some point I can internalize the plotting structure, the way I apparently have internalized character creation. 🙂

          • May 3, 2013 1:58 am

            Good for you honey! I think it’s definitely about finding a way that works for you…and in the meantime, talking about it with other writers might give you an answer you might not have thought of yourself 🙂

            Good luck!

            Xx

  2. Melissa Bradley permalink
    May 1, 2013 10:22 am

    I know what you mean. I write when I am inspired and my plotting is usually seat of my pants. I am in the same boat. People have shared with me notecards, etc, but i’ve found that working in a plain old spiral notebook works best for me.

    • May 1, 2013 7:01 pm

      Hi Melissa,
      Exactly! Some of my favorite scenes are ones that present themselves in the heat of the writing. How can I say no to them? My scene cards feel like a safety net, (Thank you, Scrivener 🙂 ) but for me writing is the most fun when I’m flying without a net. 😉

  3. May 1, 2013 10:27 am

    I don’t have any other options for you. I don’t do studying very well — maybe that’s my problem. I have read a lot of your work and I tend to disagree somewhat with your characters. Yes they want to be read — what character doesn’t, but I don’t think the middles fall apart.

    I know you love to write First Drafts — again, who doesn’t. It is so much fun to just drop the words on the page and move on to play with your Muse on the next page. I think you are fighting the demon called perfection.

    Your characters want to be read, those of us who have read your work want others to be able to read it, so let it be read. If you feel the problem is the middle, then clean up the middle. I know it is not easy, but if it bothers you enough that your characters need to intervene, for your own good you need to take care of this.

    Hopefully other writers can provide you advice or, I shutter, more instructional books on how to fix the middle. I can just offer encouragement and support for you to put your work out there so others can enjoy it as much as I have.

    • May 1, 2013 7:06 pm

      Thank you, Papabear, for all your encouragement! It goes a long way. In fact, it makes me wonder if you haven’t been consulting with my characters and put them up to this! 😉
      Perhaps my sloppy middle is more about me than my readers, but I have this really cool idea on how to fix it. I do want to make sure I don’t leave anything out on this pass, hence the impulse to consult some more literature.
      If I learn something new along the way that would be cool too!

      • May 2, 2013 12:33 am

        Did your Muse rat me out. They promised me they wouldn’t tell. Actually it was Willow, reading your post over my shoulder, who contacted your Muse. You already know how forceful she can be (I sure do). She has read your work and believes in you.

        Personally I try not to get involved, so if there wasn’t anything you liked in my original comment, then you will need to take it up with her.

        BTW, both Willow and I agree that the post was really cute and we both liked it a lot. Any time you can bring the characters or Muse into your Post I think it adds a lot to the Post. It brings not only the Post alive, but your novels/characters. And I think it brings you closer to the characters when you can interact with the in a setting outside of your book.

        Hmmm, I think I have material for my next post. 🙂 Thanks

        • May 2, 2013 6:29 pm

          Awww, that’s funny, but there was nothing I didn’t like in your original comment.
          Better make sure my Muse isn’t hiding somewhere at your next character soirée! His name is Morpheus (I only discovered that recently) and he likes to lurk in shadows. 🙂

  4. May 1, 2013 2:24 pm

    I’ve had various luck with books on craft. I’d never really thrown books in utter frustration before I started reading books on craft.

    It was that moment when I was trying to revise a manuscript, and I was in the middle of an action scene. I picked up the “how to write” book and it encouraged me to carefully craft each word so as to invoke a specific emotion, or feeling (no really, those were the exact words). In my manuscript, my MC was being thrown into a wall. I threw the book into a wall. Very cathartic, and I knew just how to spiff up my scene. I wanted everyone to feel the same thump as the book.

    So yeah, they can be very helpful.

    In all seriousness, I’ve had a lot of success with the Breakout novel books, as well as The Novelist’s Bootcamp. Also, it’s a bit dense, but the Hero with Ten Thousand faces is a must for story telling. It’s Joseph Cambell’s quintessential works that talk about how mythology plays a really big role in the stories that we are drawn to again and again (you may have heard of his prodigy: George Lucas)

    • May 1, 2013 7:11 pm

      LOL, Rena 🙂
      At first, I shied away from craft books because I felt they might influence me to write in a way that doesn’t feel genuine. (I like to think it’s my ‘voice’, but we’ll see how that goes.) But now that I’ve bashed through a few novel drafts, I feel more confident that I will be able to reject advice that doesn’t help me.
      Thank you for your suggestions–I will definitely consider them, after all if they’re good enough for Star Wars, they’re good enough for me.

  5. May 1, 2013 4:51 pm

    One of my favorite craft books was The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

    • May 1, 2013 7:13 pm

      Thank you for a GREAT suggestion! My first five pages are seriously holding me back. I like so many other parts of my story, but the beginning feels so stilted and contrived. I really need to work on that, especially since that’s the only part that most agents will read!

  6. May 1, 2013 5:29 pm

    That’s a lot of homework!
    Save the Cat is my favorite. The fifteen beats really help plot out the storyline. Hopefully that will help you as well!
    And appreciate that you enjoy stopping by my blog. Comment anytime!

    • May 1, 2013 7:15 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Alex! 🙂 Don’t worry, I’m not going to take these all on at once. I just need a place to start, and plotting out a storyline might be exactly the kind of structural advice I need.
      Well, that and there’s a cat on the cover …

  7. May 1, 2013 7:24 pm

    Things work differently for everyone. I’m a plotter. I think and plot and thing and plot for far too long. Getting to the actual writing is more difficult for me and I need to know exactly where I’m going to be able to do it. So there you go, each one of our ways as debilitating as the other… I guess we need to find some mid-way, right?

    • May 2, 2013 6:36 pm

      Hi Georgina,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      You have no idea how much I admire someone who can plot a story out at a high level before writing a word! It’s as if I need to be inside my characters to see their story, and unfortunately that means I’m subject to their idiosyncrasies (well, actually mine …) as well.
      You’re absolutely right though, we all approach the story a different way but end up in the same place.

  8. May 1, 2013 8:35 pm

    Your muse posts are the best. I so love that your characters staged an intervention on YOU. That is awesome. I just bought the Breakout Novel Workbook and am giving it a go. I am a very bad plotter, too, and even when I have a plot to work with, I stray from it. I just can’t help it.

    • May 2, 2013 6:40 pm

      Thanks, Shell!
      I have a lot of fun writing these, so I’m glad they’re appreciated. 🙂
      I wonder why it is so much fun to stray from our plots. Is it the rebel in us? Is it just fun to explore? I do exactly the same thing though. I’m pretty excited to work some more on finding out why, and how to incorporate my curious nature into a logical story.

  9. May 1, 2013 8:41 pm

    I love the idea of a writing intervention by your characters. I’d try it with mine, but they’re such a wild bunch we’d end up drunk and never get anything done!

    The most inspiring book about writing for me is If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. It is a wonderful combination of craft and loving support for the writer. After I read her, I made a promise to myself. I would stop reading books about writing and just write. For me, outlines work. Knowing the first and last line of the book works. The dreaded middle is still a problem, but it is for everyone. And, yes, there will be scenes and people who evolve but don’t add to your current story. Cut them; save them. They’ll appear in another story and shine!

    Plotting is tough. But, after reading your beautiful blogs, I know your plot will reveal itself:)

    • May 2, 2013 6:46 pm

      🙂 Aww, thanks. And I love your recommendation. I was extremely hesitant to turn to craft books at first because I feared they would advise me to stop writing immediately until I had something proper to write about! One of the things that drew me to Holly Lisle was the idea that you can write first draft and just get the words on the page, then fix them later.
      Well, I’m still fixing … but the way my story has evolved into something close to publishable has blown my mind. 🙂

  10. May 2, 2013 12:52 am

    I do love Save The Cat. A brilliant book. I also love the The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.

    Lynda R Young
    IWSG co-host

    • May 2, 2013 6:49 pm

      Hi Lynda,
      It’s great to see you at A Scenic Route, and thanks for chiming in! It looks like Save the Cat might be at the top of my reading stack. 🙂

  11. May 2, 2013 2:38 am

    Hey,

    Go with the cat book first… he needs to be saved 🙂

    Another one I *loved* was Stephen King’s memoir/writing-tips book “On Writing.” It’s excellent.

    PS… What a great way of introducing some of your favorite characters to us… I loved it 🙂

    • May 2, 2013 6:54 pm

      I loved On Writing as well, and I keep it handy because there is so much advice in it that is spot on.
      Looks like the cat will be saved first. 🙂
      And thanks! This was sooo much fun to write that I simply had to share it. IWSG was the perfect place to post it.

  12. May 2, 2013 8:30 am

    Kirsten, Love, love, love your post. Your muse posts are super brilliant, almost a story in itself! A couple of my favs, On Writing (read it in one night) by King, Writing the Breakout Novel by Maas, Bird by Bird by Lamont, and The Art & Craft of Fiction by Mixon.

    • May 2, 2013 6:57 pm

      🙂 Thanks! It is kind of a story isn’t it? Writer confronts plotting woes, and characters help her triumph!
      I almost forgot about Victoria Mixon! Great suggestion. And Bird by Bird definitely sounds intriguing to me, especially because of my fascination with feathers and wings. 🙂

  13. May 2, 2013 10:48 am

    I’ve never really read any books on writing, but I do keep ideas and such in a notebook.

    • May 2, 2013 7:02 pm

      Hi Gina,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      I didn’t read books about writing either for the longest time. Not that I didn’t want to get better at writing, but I was afraid I’d find out I was doing it all wrong and really should just stop and do something useful instead! I think I’m past that now. 🙂 Everyone does things a little differently, I think, but we all end up with stories one way or another.
      Keeping writing in that notebook, fill it up, and fill the next and the next … In fact that’s what Natalie Goldberg who wrote ‘Writing Down the Bones’ (and other books) does.

  14. May 2, 2013 12:28 pm

    This was the best thing I’ve read in a long time! So fun!

    I swear by Save the Cat and one of its companions, The Cat Strikes Back.

    You can do this! Once you find the method that works best for you, you’re gonna rock it!

    • May 2, 2013 7:06 pm

      😀 Hi Ali,
      Thank you for your wonderful comment! I’m glad you liked the post–it makes me so happy when something that was so much fun to write tickles people’s fancy.
      Wow, Save the Cat has a sequel? How cool. I’m there.

      And welcome to A Scenic Route. 🙂

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