Friday, October 14, 2011

“Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen, part 31

We’ve arrived at the final post in this series!

Kernen ends his book by giving a short rundown on non-traditional plots. He has concentrated on the usual ways plots are constructed—and published—and those probably do garner the most attention and sales. It makes sense, though, to at least be familiar with other ways of working. The best writing often uses bits of this and some of that in striking ways. You can’t do that if you only know one way to do it.

The epistolary novel and different ways of manipulating time are the two ideas he spends a fair amount of time on. As usual, he offers examples of works that have used each method. He suggests trying various twists on traditional plot construction to see if a stronger story emerges and just to improve your writing chops. He also suggested, earlier, to take all the index cards you’ve written your plot on, mix them up, then lay them out to see what you get. For some people, that’s going to be pretty tough to do. Mess with my plot? How dare you!

Yeah, guys, that’s the idea. It’s surprisingly simple to work yourself into writer’s blocks just because you think various things have to happen in certain ways. Writing is a creative process, so get creative!

Kernen then gathers all the exercises and quizzes together at the end, so you can have the tools all in one place as you go through your projects. I find that helpful. After that, he includes a glossary which is equally helpful. Things like “allegory”, “catharsis”, and “resonance” are briefly explained, as well as concepts like “conflict” and “raising the stakes”. If you’re going to talk about how to do anything, you ought to be sure everybody means the same thing when they use various terms.

In all, this is a darn useful book. The novel I’m working on is not really traditional, but I’ve gained a lot from Kernen’s methods. I’ve come back to the original idea that Neal’s and Sandy’s growth are the main focus. In other words, the rock-n-roll part of the story is part of the framework, not the plot itself. It’s a part that readers can see sometimes, but the details don’t matter as much as how the characters react.

I’m convinced that because all writers have trouble with various parts of their projects from time to time, that writers of any level will benefit from this book.

I recently got two books for research and started reading one, Street Wars by Tom Hayden. I’ll post a review of that at some point, plus I plan to read one of the rock lit novels out there and review that. Also, a member of my local writers’ group showed me a book on “creating original characters” that looks intriguing, so that may be on my “to review” list.

Thanks for coming along with me and Bob Kernen on the safari through plotting my novel! The process has to be internalized now. Feel free to add insights, tips on what works for you, or comments on failed efforts. We learn even when something bombs!

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