Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Writing a Novel: Plot

I have an inclination to give my stories sci-fi or paranormal elements, mostly for the sake of plot. I just can't seem to write a story like Jacob's Room. And while I do have a story in mind that will not rely on anything beyond ordinary life, that is a story based off of real events. And so the plot is provided for me that way.

That said, I certainly don't limit my reading to sci-fi. I've been getting a bit more into it lately, but the extent of my 'hardcore' sci-fi reading consists of Frank Herbert's Dune series and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness. I've read a little Neil Gaiman, and certainly works like A Clockwork Orange or 1984, which are sci-fi, but not full-on, aliens and whatnot sci-fi. (As a side note, I've never seen Star Wars). I read some comics, and those certainly fall into the sci-fi territory. At least, X-Men definitely does.

So, given that I'm not an uber-sci-fi fan, why am I inclined to use supernatural elements? The current story, as I've said, is a dystopia. So it has all the necessary sci-fi trappings. It's no Dune, but it's a wannabe 1984. The last story was set in the present, but had a certain paranormal power attributed to one character which drove the plot. And before that, well, there was the whole journey to save the world plot.

I need action. I'm perfectly capable of writing lengthy scenes with no action, with just talking and interaction of various sorts or interior monologues, but I can't manage a whole story in Woolf prose. And it seems like the potential for coming up with interesting stories is increased exponentially by not limiting myself to the dramas of everyday life. I can't seem to come up with a plot set entirely in the real world without it seeming...soap operaish. Perhaps this is because of my socio-economic upbringing. Firmly middle-class, white, and generally happy. So stories need to be fantastic, need to be experiences no one has had. Or at least no one can have the specific experience in the story, even if it recalls other events.

So far this has been, perhaps, my most useless post yet. And it's only #4!

Ok, ok...

I explained (I think) in a previous post how I have tried different techniques with my stories. I've just sat down and started writing and seen where it takes me, and I've made extensive (though not binding) outlines. I'm the sort of person who has found it more beneficial to have an outline. Like I said, it's not binding. As I discussed in my previous entry, your characters most likely won't let it be. The story in its final form may be nothing like the original outline. But having the outline is still helpful because it can prevent you from writing yourself into a corner, which was my biggest problem without one.

Of course, if you take it too seriously, if you stick to it too rigidly, it can be very harmful to your creative output. Imagination is fluid and you never know when a new idea is going to come to you. The outline is a guide but it is not set in stone. The first draft is really just a more comprehensive outline anyway, isn't it? When a character starts to fully realize their potential and find their place in the narrative, there's a good chance it could seem inconsistent with how they were in the earlier part of the story. Maybe not with main characters as much, but certainly with secondary characters whose roles are not so clearly defined as the protagonists usually are. So you have to go back and change a lot of things the second time through. The second draft is really the first true incarnation of the story as it will be in the end.

That's really all I have to say about plot. You have characters and you see what they do. What they do is plot. As long as there's rising action and a climax and all of that. Jacob's Room is a story and it tells you what people do, but it doesn't really have a plot.

Next time I think I'll talk about POV. I had quite a few issues with choosing one for my current narrative, after all. I can probably say more useful things about it than I can about plot. Plot just happens, as far as I'm concerned. If it's not evolving out of your characters as you go, then it's what you sat down to write about in the first place, and either way, there just isn't much to explain.

Oh, I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy too, but I put that in the comedy sphere, even if it is sci-fi. Same with some Kurt Vonnegut stuff.

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