Tuesday, 22 March 2011

can you learn how to plot from a book?

So I love to read books about writing - I love the idea of it, I love to buy them, I especially love to use a voucher I was given for free to order them online and wait excitedly for them to arrive (this last bit may have gone a bit far, I was like a newbie facebooker waiting for their second friend acceptance, checking the site every 15 minutes to track my delivery).  This month I bought two new books (yes online, how did you guess?) and I am almost finished the first, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. 
I am really enjoying it.  And I am a little disappointed. 

To the disappointment first:
It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
I mean, I know this sounds stupid, but I was actually hoping it would reveal some secret short-cut to plotting out my novel.  How could it do that, when every novel has a unique plot? I don't know, if I knew I probably wouldn't need to read all these craft books.  But I am always looking out for the secret that I have somehow inadvertently missed,  that all other writers seem to know innately.  When I am logical about this, I understand that there is no secret, and that hard work, sweat and brain power is required to plot, but did I mention the hard work? I don't much like it, and so I prefer to hope for a secret along the way.  And now to the more promising part.

I am really enjoying it because:
it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
After I got over the initial disappointment of no secret, I realised that I knew this stuff that Bell was talking about.  He makes it sounds fresh, and has given me so many ideas about how to think about my plot and actually get down to doing some of that hard work.   It turns out that I know more craft than I think, and if I can just get enough self-confidence to try it out, maybe I will be able to plot.  And the brilliant thing about this book is that it doesn't suggest this stuff is easy (there is no hint of a secret, folks), but it doesn't suggest the task is insurmountable either.   I think it might be giving me some of that self-confidence.

So, excuse me, I am off to plot something.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Am I just too Right Brained for my own good?

I've always thought of myself as foremost a left brained person.  I was a lawyer in Scotland - I almost studied maths instead of law at university.  I am skeptical, and,  most of the time, composed and thoughtful rather than reactionary and emotional.  In writing, however, I can really get into the flow and lose myself in the imaginary world, and in doing so the details of it come alive to me, and I write them down.  That is how, I like to think, I can come up with some half-way decent short stories.

I have 'won' Nanowrimo both years I have entered.  As I said, I used to be a lawyer, verbosity comes easy to me.  Each year, however, I have come undone as I careened headlong into the 40,000s in the third week, comfortable I was going to make the word count goal.  I was barely half way through the 'story' and I had no idea how to end it.  Or, to be more precise, I knew what I wanted the last chapter to achieve, but I had no idea how to get my story to that point.  And so, I would stop writing at the end of November, with 50,000 words and change. And people would congratulate me.  And I would feel like a failure, and couldn't admit it. 

I have just started a new writing book called 'Narrative Design' by Madison Smart Bell.  The preface suggests that the creativity of the right brain, just like with musical improvisation, needs some basic structure to 'improv' over.  As a musician, you need an innate understanding of chord progressions before you can improvise around them.  This makes sense to me, and I can see that this is probably what I am missing.  I can create, but it is formless when it grows any larger than about 5,000 words. 
Is this something some people come to naturally? Do their left brains take over at this point, and insert the form where necessary?  Where do they get the form from - is it something they have intuitively picked up from reading?  If so, it appears I am a little left brain deficient.
So now I am on a task to learn the form, as it seems it is not something I can intuit.  I'm not sure how I'm going to go about it - finishing Narrative Design will probably be a good start.  Any other ideas for how to do this (short of joining an MFA course, I don't have that sort of money!) gratefully appreciated.  And as I figure it out, I will let you know, and if you are in a similar position to me, I hope it helps.