Friday, September 16, 2011

Robert Kernen’s “Building Better Plots”, part 27

Well, regardless of who’s right about the definition of “interpolation”, Kernen says something pretty helpful about how to solve plot gaps. He says to put plot points on an arc, wherever you think it makes the most sense for each scene to fall. If you have two scenes that you don’t know how to bridge, consider the plot arc they form. What characters are necessary to move the plot to that empty place? You want to raise the tension a little from the previous scene, but not so much that readers are jarred.

If you have a blank space following two scenes, think about those two scenes. Look at the plot arc. What elements do you need to build tension and drama that will reach the next scene? What will raise the tension a bit from the last scene? What subplot needs development?

These are all great hints to help me get past that block of “what happens during these world tours.”

Kernen suggests using 3 x 5 index cards to write your plot points, because the cards are small enough to move around very easily yet are roomy enough to write a fair amount of scene information. He says the biggest problem he’s found with computer outline programs is that he can’t see the whole plot on a single screen, and that’s something I’ve thought about before.

If you aren’t bothered by how much you can see on a computer screen, and you find a program that lets you move plot information around to your satisfaction, run wild. I love computers (though I do wish programs were more customizable and I wish “in the background” online stuff really would be in the *background*), but for fiction writing, I need to see the whole picture as well as the parts. Currently my outline is just a straight listing of events in a word processing document because that’s a simple format I can manipulate, but it does have that visual limitation.

You guys born and raised in the digital age, don’t knock pen and paper! There was even a time when people didn’t leave the house with a phone. The authors of classic fiction from the 1800s wrote their drafts either in longhand or on a manual typewriter. The simplicity of paper has advantages. And besides, if you never hold a brand-new *book* in your hands, you miss that unique and special scent that whispers, “Fresh paper, just feel how soft I am, ahhh, a new story!”

Of course, one could argue that paper books are not ecologically sound, but that’s beyond my little blog. Which, ironically, is totally digital.

Anyway: Remember that writing advice is just that: guidance, suggestions. If you find a way of doing any part of the process that gets you to the end product better, go with that. No two writers work exactly alike. I am finding a bunch of advice that does work well for me, however, so it makes sense to start with that and adapt as you find necessary. Chances are you already have occasional “writer’s block” or “dry spells” or whatever, so don’t add to your stress by thinking that this or that method is the only way.

Having done a first draft, and therefore collected a large number of scenes big and small, I’ll need to adapt Kernen’s suggestions for working with a 3 x 5 card system. But, I’ll read through the section on using the cards and I’ll get back to you with thoughts on how I (and maybe you) can use the system.

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