Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just Another Writing Blog

     Every time I do my version of writing research - which means google a topic and scan one or two of the items that come up - on a subject I plan to blog about, I find myself reading informatin about the topic on some other writer's blog. There must be hundreds or thousands of blogs by writers and/or about writing and many of them mention the same topics I am reading about in order to write about them.
     My first thought is: why am I writing this blog when it's just another writing blog among thousands? How many writer's blogs does the world need? My second thought is that clearly every subject I blog about has been covered by every other writing blog, probably more than once.
     Then I consider that one of my personal goals in blogging is to share information with other writing enthusiasts and professionals. So, if I come across unique ideas in other blogs and comment on them (and refer others to them) in my own, that is acheiving part of my purpose.
     So I read these other posts by other writers on blogs about writing and each one says something different on the same subject or sometimes says the same thing in a different way. And each one gives me a new perspective or fresh idea.
     This tells me that my thoughts on writing might offer other writers a new way to look at an issue or topic, even an age-old subject, and hopefully inspire them or their work - which is my other goal of blogging.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Seven Plot Theory

It seems the theory that there are only seven plots in (the history of) the world has been around forever and discussed and debated countless times. Interestingly, after my recent bit (emphasis on bit = tiny amount) of research on this topic, I'm unclear as to what they are.
       One article I read refered to them this way: "Man vs. self, man vs. nature, etc." As far as I know, the etc. is man vs. man and that's only three basic plots.  The plots I thought of include variations of: boy meets/loses/gets girl, hero faces/struggles/solves problem, protagonist desires/quests/attains goal... hmm...that's all I got. And again, that's only three.
        However, a single plot has lots of variables. (This always reminds me of Sonic Drive-in's claim that they have a dozen or so flavors and that equals eighty-six hundred-plus drink combinations.) 
        When you consider the different aspects of plots - setting, character, situation, conflict, and complication just to name a few- even if there are only seven basic plots, each of those aspects has innumerable possibilities. Even if there were only a certain number of intriguing conflicts, situations or settings, but countless types characters with myriad individual traits and any number of potential complications...I struggle with simple math, so this kind of calculation is beyond me, but I have to see the opportunity for unique stories as endless.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What I'm Currently Reading...

I recently finished Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero. I plan to read the next in that series, Son of Neptune, but I am now reading the latest by Tim Dorsey, When Elves Attack, and I believe Dorsey will have another book out soon which I am anticipating.
         I am reading the Novemer/December and January issues of Writer's Digest, which for some reason arrived at my house within days of each other.
        I have given into the hype and started The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larson. So far, I am  intrigued and I like the author's writing style, but I have been warned by some (and told the opposite by others) that is has some graphic violence that I will not be able to read. I sometimes have very delicate sensibilities with such things.
        I have acquired the biography of celebrated racehorse trainer, Vincent O'Brian, which I had planned to read when I am on vacation in January, but that may be prempted by offerings of some of my very favorite authors.
        I am looking forward to receiving as Christmas gifts the latest releases by Janet Evanovich and Mary  Janice Davidson and possibly Robin McKinley. I also ordered for myself - Merry Christmas to me- The Wise Man's Fear, the sequel to The Name Of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are two by Harlan Coban I would also like to read: Live Wire and Shelter. And I have not yet begun obtaining other works by Bateman, which I am anxious to do...
       My two fallbacks if I should inexplicably run out of things to read are The Complete Works of Mary Roberts Rhinehart, all 1000+ pages of which I have downloaded to my Nook, and the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, of which I have read some, but not all.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year (and happy reading). As encouragement to keep writing, consider that someday readers and fans of our own work may wait axiously for and delight in the arrival of books and stories we have written.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Two Cents On: Character Driven Vs. Plot Driven

Recently I did some brief research on the concept of character driven as opposed to plot (also know as action) driven fiction. One article I came across claimed that plot or action driven fiction describes fantasy and historical and that character driven refers to romance.

Really? Are those the only three genres that exist? Where do mystery and horror fit in? Literary fiction? Westerns? I believe plays/drama are a kind of fiction as well. So, all in all, the above definition is simplistic at least. Another idea suggested for distinguishing the difference was to ask if the hero was making choices or was the action forcing him to go/be somewhere or do something.

I find this to be another ridiculous idea. I am a believer in the phrase, "It doesn't matter what happens to you in life; what matters is how you handle it." Are there any situations where a person, fictional or otherwise has only one option? I can't think of any, except for maybe unavoidable death.
I heard or read somewhere once that there are only 7 plots in the world (I plan to investigate that concept in a future blog post). If that is true, then it is compelling characters that make each story different from any other.

The most ordinary circumstance can become intriguing if an unusual main character does something unexpected.  Alternately, the most facinating setting or plot can become utterly boring if the original concept is paired with characters who only do mundane things and allow circumstances to push them around in completely predictable ways.

My personal feeling is that whatever the plot, all fiction can be described as character driven. The situation or action gives the hero more interesting choices in what to do or say, but what he or she chooses ultimately affects what happens in the story.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Something I've Learned That Does Work For Me

I went to a writers workshop lead by a member of my awesome writers group (livingwriterscollective.blogspot). Tricia Petty, of Cellphane Ministries and Antibellum Productions,  has worked in the movie industry as well as writing novels and mentioned that working with screenplays gave her the idea to break a story down into scenes rather than chapters.
I don't know why this works, but it was a lifesaver for fixing my problem with my first book, where I scrambled the plot and the subplots, and in my second book where I tired to cobble together seperate bits and pieces of the story into a cohesive narrative. By breaking the story up into scenes, I am able to write each scene on an index card and shuffle them around until I had events in the best order. I know this will be a method I use with every book I write.
When established authors answer the common question from beginning writers "How do you write?", most  describe thier own writing process and stress that it is what works for them.  The only way to know if it can be an effective part of your own process is to try it. Different things work for different writers and few authors work exactly the same way. As my friend Karen says (mywritingloft.blogspot) your writing process has to be yours.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About My Writing Process...Or Lack Of

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am still trying to figure out what my writing process is. In one recent post I described something I've learned doesn't work for me and here is another.
     On my second book I had trouble writing the story from start to finish because there were large gaps where I wasn't sure yet what would happen. Following the concept of trying out something other writers do to see if it works for you, I wrote the parts I knew and then tried to fill in the blanks to connect the separate parts of the story. I honestly don't see how this could be the way anyone writes. I don't remember what author I got this piece of wisdom from, but he must be one of a kind.
     When that method didn't work, I sketched out a brief outline of the story in chronological order and worked from it to write each part before going on to the next. I don't see this as being something I have to do for every book, but it might not be a bad idea. It will save me having to go back and outline in the event that I do make a mess of the plotline.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Among The Things I've Been Learning... that I often don't have time or energy to write blogs on the days they are supposed to be posted - or the day before the day they are to be posted. I need to write them whenever I can, so they will be posted on time.
     And that when I post blogs on unscheduled days (like this one), it feels like it should count for the one I missed last week, but it would be more practical to disregard the missed one and post this on the next scheduled day, so that I might not skip another in the near future.
     The real lesson here is that writing of any kind needs to be done regularly no matter what, with no excuses, to aviod this problem all together. It is entirely too easy to get off schedule and out of the daily writing habit and hard to get back into it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Learning From Mistakes

My friend Karen (mywritingloft.blogspot) has begun a series of blogs on 366 lessons she has learned about writing. In one of them she says that every writer should have a process and in another she explains what her process is.  Lucky for her, she learned her process while writing a screenplay and was able to apply it successfully to her novel.
     I have completed two novels, (not counting ones that are finished-but-not-finished because I never revised them enough to consider them as good as they can be - but have not given up on and plan to continue working on again in the future), and I don't think I have a defined process yet.
     I have learned a few lessons about the way not to do things. On my first novel, I wanted to get the bones of the story down first, so I wrote the whole thing, concentrating on just the main plot. This left me with a 35,000 word (barely a novella) manuscript that was a very simple story.  Then I created a few subplots and set about weaving them into the main plot.
     It was a nightmare. Two thirds of the way through, the 3 or 4 strands of the story were a hopeless snarl. I had to virtually rewrite the whole book, going back to the bare bones and starting again.  The main thing I learned from this was that I am not a good enough writer yet to manage a complex story plot, or even more than a main plot and two uncomplicated subplots. I am in fact now working on revision 5 (or 7) of that book and almost have all the tangles out. Maybe a process would have helped me avoid this.
     What I ended up doing with this first book was adding the subplots into the main plot in a staggered manner so I never had more weave together than I could manage. This worked well in my second book also and I was able to add  the subplots or complications to the main plot at intervals and avoid the mess I made of the first book.
     I followed the generally accepted advice of setting aside each book when I was done with the first draft and going on to the next project. When I'm done with final revisions to book one in a couple of weeks, I will begin the second revision to book two. I'm hoping it will not need a half dozen revisions (and two years) to complete. Then maybe I will learn more about developing my own process.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Language Or Setting Or Dialogue Or...

In my recent effort to discover what parts of a writers work are considered most important, the only thing I found in common among readers was proper writing. (See previous post.) My recent effort in contest judging made me wonder what parts of a story readers ranked higher than others in terms of importance. Outside of the correct grammar/puncuation/spelling issue, I have discovered that everything else is subjective.
     This conclusion was drawn from comments made by many of the judges of the contest I recently participated in as well as a poll of other writers. Some like a lot of description, others take off points for too much detail.  Some think unrealistic dialogue ruins a good story, others think poor dialogue can be ignored if the characters are otherwise believable. Many readers view poetic use of language as more important than a strong plot.  There really was no consensus.
     This suggests that - other than the aformentioned importance of proper writing - no one skill or writing strength that can be considered more significant than others. The ideal would be to strive for excellence in all aspects of writing, building on what you do well and continually working to improve areas where you struggle.