Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Refusal of the Call

I've been dancing with this plotting thing for awhile now. Longer, really, than I'd care to admit. It's a two steps forward, one giant step back thing. There is something so alluring about "organic writing" and the creativity it implies. Plus, actually writing seems so much more productive than planning what to write.

My first attempts at outlining involved stating "I'm going to outline my book", and then randomly writing down any scenes ideas that occurred to me. The problem with this approach was that (1) there was no structure; and (2) there was no clues as to what needed to go into the "blanks" to create an interesting story; and (3) my story still seemed to wander down all sorts of interesting but unfocused side paths. I needed a tool to help me brainstorm scene ideas, and some structure to help keep myself on a reasonable path, but I had no idea where to start, so I just kept writing whatever came into my head.

I thought if I kept researching, I'd be able to fill in all the holes. So I've researched. A lot.

I kept coming back to the need to outline. But still had no clue exactly what to do.

My first attempt at finding a structure, about 15 months ago, was to listen to the Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge Audio Seminar - The Hero's 2 Journeys. Great audio "book". I wrote down lots of story ideas. But I found there were still a lot of vectors my story could go in and I guess I just wasn't ready yet to get down to the hard work. I learned a lot, but didn't really internalize it. I wasn't ready for the journey.

So I messed around a few more months and didn't make much progress. Every time I tried to write an "out of order" scene, I kept getting stuck because I didn't know what I would have already written when I got to that point in the story. I kept trying to introduce characters from scratch every time they appeared, or fill in backstory. Very annoying. Perhaps I needed to find the beginning. So I worked on that. I have several beginnings now. {g} All of them different, and probably none I'll use.

At one point last Spring, I decided I was not cut out to write a novel. It was time to quit. I mentioned this to my mother and stepfather on one of my visits. My stepfather, who is also working on a novel, implored me not to stop. He said I had inspired him to write his own novel, and I should stay with it. He offered me some software he'd purchased called The Writer's Dreamkit. I'm not recommending this. It's very prescriptive and, in the end, spits out your plot for you, including prompts for each scene. Definitely a recipe generator. But it did cause me to think a lot about my story - the archetype of the characters, the goals of my characters, the dramatic theme of my story. Maybe one day I'll create an entire post on this software. As a brainstorming tool, though, it did provide some ideas.

I was fortunate right at the beginning of summer '07 to get a Writer's Sabbatical Weekend away from my family. In that one weekend, I wrote a significant number of scenes. I made a great deal of progress. It felt good. I had some really great dramatic scenes by this time, but still no structure. In one scene, I wrote about the death of my MC's sister. But was this a climax or a Call to Adventure? Where did it fit into my story?

On a roll, I followed this with Holly Lisle's Create a Plot Clinic. A great brainstorming tool, but it didn't provide the structure I was hoping for. I fiddled with writing a few more scenes. I wrote down ideas for many more. I resolved some more character issues. But after spending the summer months brainstorming and trying to create a structure, my time ran out. I'd given myself the summer to plot, and summer was over. Back to writing.

The problem was, I still didn't have a structure, just more scene ideas. I'd given up too soon.

In the hero's journey, heroes often give up because they are not fully committed to the journey. I guess this was me. Like those heroes, I needed some other influence, some external motivator or crisis, or the help of a mentor, to move me along.

I think a lot of authors have these fits and starts. What have you done to overcome resistance and just move forward writing your story?


Lottery Girl said...

Hey you!

I tend to ramble in my writing, which is why I shouldn't be a chunk-writer. I'll write, and then go down a completely different path. I know that happens sometimes, but then the rest of the book will not work either.

The thing that has helped me to get back on track with writing was to read Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. She writes in longhand on a cheap notebook. It's empowering. Your expectations are not around, so you are free to write whatever you please, and I am. I use this every time I get stuck.

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

Imagine! A writing book I don't own. {g}

I don't remember where I picked up the comment now, but last summer I started writing in a notebook as well. I find it's really terrific for getting ideas down. It's too much hassel to edit and figit with getting it "perfect", so I can just move on through the scene.

And since I don't own a laptop, it also frees me to write in different places, or take it along wherever I go.

BTW - I'm working on my "Hero's Journey" worksheet. Still interested in dissecting books with me?

Lottery Girl said...

Yes, I am ready for dissection. Got my scalpel and gloves ready!

Rhonda said...

Hi Jenny,

I'm struggling a bit with the structure issue. One thing I did recently is write an ending. Just so I have a place to head toward. >g< I'm a flagrant chunk writer and tend to even hop to the next book. Lately I’ve committed myself to only work on book one material…or I will commit myself. LOL.

I’m all for the Volger stuff, and prior to him Joseph Campbell.

Rose D. said...

Hey Jenny!

Check it out! You've been tagged for one of the random memes sweeping the Books and Writers forum folks' blogs.