Original fiction project – week of 7/19/2009

I brainstormed my new story between October of last year up through June of this year, but the one thing I didn’t really think about so much was the plot. As in, protagonist A has something they want, protagonist A’s goals are thwarted by complication B, protagonist A must find some way to get what they want or have those efforts also thwarted. I’ve studied the concept of “plot” for more years than I care to state, but when I’m actually writing, plot turns out to be, “OK, event A occurs to character B, so…what happens after that? OK, event C happens next. And…what happens after that?” etc. There’s no over-arching structure, it’s just a linear sequence of events each thought up for the first time after the other is written, or maybe anticipated a few scenes in advance but not much earlier than that. It’s the soap-opera approach to writing. Soap operas don’t really have a plot; at least, not if you think of “plots” as the fact that stories have a beginning-middle-end structure or a “protagonist A strives to get goal B and either succeeds or not, the end,” structure or “rising action, climax, dénouement” structure.

When I wrote my first novel, Dis/inhibition, I wrote it soap-opera style. This went on for 700 merry, hand-written pages, and eventually stopped only because life got in the way. The “second draft” of that novel was a friend encouraging me to dust off the story and give it an actual beginning, middle, and end. But this was after the fact of writing it, not before. And the non-linear style of writing where I leap back and forth in the timeline of the story to work on whatever? Later drafts. So me thinking about plot before? Is new.yellow.different.

And potentially paralyzing.

There’s a reason I write soap-opera style. I don’t want to feel penned in by global decisions I’d made at an earlier time. I wanted to be free to veer off in the direction of a great idea if it occurred to me, and not feel the need to reject it in order to “stick to my outline.” In the past, I have quickly lost interest in stories that were too well planned in advance.

That was before I started writing fan fiction. Or, more to the point, serial fan fiction, where each episode goes public as soon as it is completed. In that scenario, you better darn well have some idea where you are going, or you’ll write an incoherent mess. But what I discovered writing serial fan fiction is that there’s not as much prior planning in that scenario as you’d imagine. Or, there doesn’t have to be. If I have a vague idea where I want my main character to be at the end of the “season”, I can kind of pace myself getting there, knowing I have exactly X number of episodes to do it in. As each episode is completed, I can toy with ideas I have about stuff that could happen, and decide if that will take me too far afield in getting to my end point, or realize there’s a cool way to redirect the story back on track later, and have fun with spontaneous ideas. The closer I get to the end, the more my choices are constricted by having to tie up loose ends towards the ending I imagined, but that doesn’t end the creative challenges. You get mired in plot holes that need to be fixed, for one.

So yeah, a little pre-planning doesn’t have to be a straight jacket, and with that in mind, I’m plunging into the world of an original fiction novel.

15 thoughts on “Original fiction project – week of 7/19/2009

  1. I’m doing the tightrope thing as well. From my past experience with writing original fic, I know it as a story-killing straight jacket. From my experience with fan fic, I know it as a story-saving necessity.
    We’ll see how it goes in this case.

  2. right now my ‘planning’ is writing down ideas as I get them into my original fic ideas folder because i don’t have time to get to that part of the story RIGHT NOW.
    I found true planning more helpful when i’m coauthoring.
    again good luck

  3. I find jotting down ideas as they occur to me some of the most useful planning there is. Unforced, unpressured, just feed it a little by thinking about it from time to time.
    That’s really what my morning pages was, feeding the muse by spending 10 minutes a day contemplating it, then leaving the rest to the subconscious to dish up when it pleased.

  4. I find jotting down ideas as they occur to me some of the most useful planning there is
    I just figured this out. Then again I used to be able to remember things but now with so many fandoms and original projects I can’t.

  5. I can’t imagine working on as much projects simultaneously as you do. I have three projects–one fan fic, one new original fic and one old original fic–and I can’t do all three at once.

  6. My brain is wired the complete opposite. I get so intensely into one thing I won’t do anything else. Anything else, except eat and pee.

  7. It makes me very crabby when people try to interrupt me with rude things like wanting to hang out and stuff.

  8. 1. By definition all novels are fiction, so if you use fiction to modify novel, most agents will automatically reject you because it sounds like you don’t know what you are talking about. Same thing with original. It’s just “novel”. You can modify it by the genre/sub-genre, word count and whether it’s completed. “I am seeking representation for a completed 90,000 word paranormal romance novel.”
    2. I took a wonderful workshop from Jennifer Cruisie at RWA Nationals. First draft you just write. She calls it her “don’t look down draft.” The important part is to get it down. As Jodi Picoult says, “You can’t edit a blank page.” Once you get that down, then you go back and look at structure, things like turning points and the beats in a scene. That’s when you worry whether Goal-Motivation-Conflict is clear.
    If you haven’t read in awhile, the market has changed a lot. People expect certain things in an Urban Fantasy novel, and I don’t just mean genre elements. Competition is fierce and agents/editors are looking for a very tightly written novel.
    But just get the don’t look down draft down. Structure can come later.

  9. Remember when we did that massive BtVS-group fanfic? That taught me massive amounts about writing a long story, mental tools I use to this day even if since then all my works have been solo, not cowritten. I’d only written short stories previously, or attempted longer works and abandoned them with no idea where the story was going (or an idea and no way to get there).
    It wasn’t entirely plotting, the method I recall we came up with — it was more like, “at the end of this chapter, we want the characters to be in THIS place, so they’re ready for THIS next conflict”. Setting things up and knocking them down, as it were. Then we worked backwards from that, and determined what scenes were needed to get the characters there. For each scene, we listed a place (giving an idea of business that might be used in the scene), the speaking roles, and what the scene’s value was — what ‘comes out of it’ in terms of important information. (Even if that important info appears secondary on the page, like when it comes to foreshadowing.)
    It’s not plotting per se, because we didn’t do much further than a few chapters ahead at a time, with some longer-term story-goals kinda noted (so we knew where we were heading). I still do that, now: “what’s the point of this scene? and what other scenes will rely on this scene’s information, down the road?” Too, in some cases, that helps cull stuff — “is this something that becomes important, later?”
    The problem with writing serially (as in, write a chapter and post it to main cheerleaders) is that I continue a fanfic tendency, which is to assume the story’s read by it largest audience with sometimes significant gaps between chapters. That leads you into repeating information as a refresher. Useful at first, but when you read the story start-to-finish, you suddenly can see that each chapter/scene contains a boatload of repetition that’s not needed when the previous chapter/scene is still fresh in the reader’s mind. Seeing a scene as a chunk of “information” means I can look at such repetition and know it’s information already conveyed, and thus can be trimmed or even completely cut.
    (The hardest part about trimming is accepting that readers can extrapolate. We don’t need to see the character at breakfast, then lunch, and then dinner, to know the character always reacts the same way to similar situations. We’ll just assume the character does, until shown otherwise.)
    If I have a vague idea where I want my main character to be at the end of the “season”, I can kind of pace msyelf getting there, knowing I have exactly X number of episodes to do it in.
    I’d say I learned more about plotting, character arcs, and dialogue from dissecting Whedon than I ever did from any playwriting or creative writing class.

  10. I’d say I learned more about plotting, character arcs, and dialogue from dissecting Whedon than I ever did from any playwriting or creative writing class.
    That’s really true.

  11. All of this is stuff I learned as well from helming the Angel Season 6 and The Destroyer fan fics. It’s going to be useful in writing original fic.

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