Friday, September 23, 2011

“Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen, part 28

Kernen’s idea for using 3x5 cards to list scenes and plot points seems to be a good idea. Since I’m well along in the plot process though, I’ll have to tweak his method. He says not to worry if you feel that some scenes or plot points need to be connected but you don’t know how yet; just put in one or more blank cards as placeholders.

He has a series of questions to help you decide if something’s missing in your plot. For example, how’s the level of tension; are major plot points spaced properly; and is something needed to keep or perfect the overall story’s pacing.

These and the other questions are not ones I feel capable of answering. If I knew those things, I wouldn’t need help with plotting. But then, I’ve never worked with an editor or agent, so maybe once that happens I’ll gain new skills that will allow me to see those issues myself. I’ll keep my fingers crossed J

As I create more scenes for major plot points, I’ll become aware of the story’s rhythm? Well, Robert, I’m not so sure, because I’ve worked through dozens of complete scenes since beginning this adventure, and I haven’t any idea of how the pacing or the rhythm are. The more I read about “how to write”, the more I feel that some of the things I’m “supposed to” be aware of are things that my subconscious may know, but my conscious brain just doesn’t have the room.

I think I understand what Kernen means by plot points being spaced properly. Major scenes shouldn’t happen too close together or too far apart because that will feel stilted and unnatural.

I guess what I’m having the biggest problem with as I go through this book is that it’s aimed at a huge group of writers (as in, anybody who buys the book). The best thing about having a teacher or editor work with you is that they focus on your story. They give advice for your issues. So, I’m very much looking forward to the new online writing course I’ve started.

I’ve interrupted my process with Kernen’s book because this online course came up. It’s called “Laws of Motion: Plotting the Compelling Story” and it’s through Writer U on Yahoo! groups. The instructor is Laura Baker. So far, I like the course because Laura is forcing the students to focus on what’s really important for our plots. Unpublished and therefore inexperienced writers (like me) have a tendency to think everything should be included in our plots. But like Kernen says, not every idea needs to go in. We need help deciding exactly what it is we’re trying to say, and the best way to say it.

An interesting idea that Baker puts forward is that the main character’s basic nature drives his choice of actions, which drive the plot. She forced me to pin down one protagonist; it was easy enough to say that Neal goes through the biggest changes and causes the most important plot points to happen. What’s harder is identifying his basic nature. Baker suggested that it could be he fears being vulnerable. While that’s true, I do feel that alone doesn’t adequately describe his basic nature. Like people in real life, Neal is complex and he sometimes acts in contradictory ways. But I’m far from done with the course!

In my next post on “Building Better Plots”, James Michener makes an appearance, in a sense!

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