Thursday, September 08, 2005

Character building and plotting

Janet Elaine Smith is a writer with 14 novels to her credit. I asked her about plotting tools that have worked best for her. She advised that people have told her that her stories are character, rather than plot, driven. She carries with her, everywhere she goes, index cards on which she notes items related to her characters...physical characteristics, personality traits...She may see someone doing something that one of her characters might do--at a restaurant, shopping, church, wherever she goes. She never leaves home without her index cards.

This isn't the first time I've heard about the index cards technique. I tried it once before, but I didn't think I was doing it right, so I let it go to the wayside. But yesterday I took out the index cards and started writing. And when I had finished, I posted to Janet and asked, "Is this what you meant? Because I think I tend to make things more difficult than they need to be."

She wrote back an edited version of my index cards, highlighting the things I needed to eliminate. "You are making this more difficult than it needs to be," she wrote. "I don't focus on the issues. I let the characters tell their story. They know where it's going."

So, OK. Just write the story.

Last year in the novel challenge I took a poster board and drew a graph that started at the beginning, expanded through the middle, and, as the threads of the tapestry were woven together, wound back down again. It was a lengthy task. I took it to show my friend Maureen, a writer in Canfield, Ohio. She took one look at it and said, "That's very nice." I was pretty proud of all that work I had done when I left her house that day.

Maureen e-mailed me. "That was a very nice poster. Now put it away and just write a good story."

Now, here are two writers telling me the same thing. So, I'm writing a good story. I don't have a pile of index cards. I have my 'notes' inside me.

Sometimes, Janet said, she puts herself in the shoes of her characters so she can write the feelings. That reminded me of when I was still in public school. I read a LOT of books. I would choose the character I was most interested in and BE that character throughout the book. So it just follows that I put myself in the shoes of my characters no matter which of my stories I'm writing.

But I have placed a mental block in the midst of my progress. I get to a point where I can't write any more and I can't apply my seat to the chair any longer. I feel the tension in my muscles. I want to write more, but there's this something that prevents me doing what I want to do. And I walk away to come back again another day.

In my e-mail signature I have the line: "Making 2005 mine." Today is Sept. 8. If I've counted right there are 112 days left in 2005. I better be making some tracks.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Beginnings Addendum

Interpreting the instructions for the assignment after I posted to my new blog, I decided to rewrite, in 50 words or less, the barebones version of the plot:

Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of home AND career, she just wants to find leve l ground after betrayal by the man she had deeply loved and trusted. A handyman with a secret past wants to help ease her burdens. (38 words in two sentences.)

Next: The Six-Point Plot
The Goals of both the hero and the villain.
The Crisis--what triggers events
The Obstacles
The Disaster--hero appears destined to fail
The Solution
The Resolution

The heroine's goal: to take care of her responsibilities.

The hero's goal: to find a way to make amends for his failures in war action and to win the heart of the heroine.

The villain's goal: Who is the villain? Does the villain have to be a person?

I guess I need to ponder these things for awhile. Be back tomorrow.

New Beginnings

It's a day for new beginnings. It's the first day of September 2005. It's the start of the MW Novel Challenge. I'm committed to marathon writing this month, as well as returning to the discussion for Donald Maass' book and workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel.

It's also a new start for me as all of my children have grown to adulthood now. No children returned to public school this year for the first time in my life in 31 years of motherhood. One child is now enrolled at Kent State University, a college freshman. Where did the years go? Well, I was advised that I would come to appreciate my newfound independence. It's time to get started on it...with all of the above-listed new beginnings.

I will be working on my romance novel, Debt of Gratitude (title will probably change later). The first assignment is to summarize the plot in 50 words or less:

Responsibility defines Rachel's life...managing the household: mother deceased, father gravely ill, developmentally disabled sister at home; managing editor of a local daily newspaper on the career front. Devin is a handyman with a secret past who wants to help ease Rachel's burdens.

For the market I want to submit this novel to, the emphasis must be on Rachel. It's her story. The hero must be strong, intelligent, and supportive. But the emphasis is on the heroine...her story.

As of noon I have revised the first four chapters of the novel. I've worked on it long enough that the natural chapter breaks are happening.