Plot…or, Ditch Digging

Character development, cool.  Dialogue, okay.  Multi-dimensional secondary characters, alright.  Plots and subplots…eh.

When writing, my brain starts with characters, not situations.  So it’s no wonder that I found myself getting stuck in the muck of the first draft of my YA novel as the word count went past the twenty thousand mark.  I had what I thought to be some pretty interesting characters, a somewhat interesting premise, and some great situations.  But, a story?  Well…

Then I came across and bought Jessica Page Morrell’s, book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us,  She gives some great advice, but beware.  While she’s funny, she is also incredibly direct, and her no-nonsense approach forces you to take an honest look at your work. If you don’t want your feelings hurt, take a pass.  If you’re ready to work, check it out.

Anyway, one especially helpful piece of advice for me was to stick to a three-act structure.  This would seem to be simple enough because, hello, beginning, middle, and end…but even though all writers know we need all three of these components to achieve a full and complete story, we can still get lost in it all.  I was amazed at how much more focused I became just by dividing my manuscript into what belongs in Act 1, Act, 2, and Act 3.  I even kept three separate word files and followed a 25/50/25 percent formula to determine the length of each act.  This helped keep everything straight and from trickling over where it didn’t belong.  Morrell’s blueprints for each act where also great and on point, especially when she broke down what kinds of plot developments should occur at which points of the story and why.

I know it seems a bit technical and so, ummmm…not creative?  But here’s the thing, writing is technical.  I mean, in so much that it is a craft.  When I decided a while ago to stop waiting around for those damn fairy muses King refers to in his NPR interview (link in my Stephen King, Muses, and My Monkey post ), I realized that if I was serious about getting published, then I had to be serious about writing, which meant doing all those crappy, non-creative, boring, technical “things”  like…mapping out my beginning, middle, and end.  And paying attention to things like structure and plot points (even though it’s a literary novel—especially because it’s a literary novel).  I know, not fun.  I mean, I used to think all that stuff sucked the living creativity right out of you.  I used to wait to be “inspired,” because I thought writing should be this crazy, romantic, surreal experience.  But of course, it’s not.  It’s like digging a ditch…in mid-August…in Florida…by yourself.  So, bottom line, while I’m not suggesting you go all crazy with the technical side of things (and really, who am I to advise), do consider that a great image, or character, or bit of dialogue alone does not a story make.

So, here’s to digging.

Follow me on Twitter @jetchez

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