This past weekend I attended a plotting workshop put on by Robin LaFevers, author of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (recently nominated for an Agatha award!). Her presentation was fabulous. We learned about plot layers, inciting incidents, rising action, world building, turning points, acts, pacing, finish work and the pelvic woo! (No, we didn’t really learn about the pelvic woo. It just happens to be my favorite phrase and I like to use it whenever I get a chance. If you have a child addicted to SpongeBob, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)
I had many “uh-huh” moments at her workshop. (I’m hoping with the popularity of Oprah’s “a-ha” moment that the “uh-huh” moment will soon be sweeping the nation.) The first “uh-huh” moment came from the discussion of when to start the story. (Hint: right away...or at least, kinda soon!) My current WIP was getting pretty blah, blah, blah-ish at the beginning and I realized that I probably wrote it more for myself than the reader.
Later, I looked up more information on beginnings in a screenwriting book. Richard Walters writes that the beginning “is that part before which there is nothing.” For example, he says that the movie Kramer vs. Kramer is a film that starts at the proper beginning. Meryl Streep is standing in the doorway with her bags packed, ready to leave the family. It would have been tempting to start with the couple’s escalating fights and then get to her departure, but that’s not really what the story’s about. It’s about the father reconciling with his child. So get to the story!
The other “uh-huh” moment I had at Robin’s workshop was when she talked about writing in acts. She suggested writing just to the next act, like a mini-goal. It makes the idea of writing a whole novel seem less daunting. Surely I can write one act! Right!?
So all that plotting and structure talk caused me to do what I always do when I’m trying to plan a novel…pull out the butcher paper. For me, the scenes have to be drawn on a long paper that I can put up on the wall as a daily reminder of what the heck I’m doing. Even though “what the heck I’m doing” seems to change daily. But there’s always more butcher paper!
How do you writers out there prepare to write a novel? Outline? Note cards? Close your eyes and throw a dart?
Oh, wait! Uh-huh Moment #3: Always find a babysitter who can stay the whole day while you attend fabulous workshops so you don’t have to speed home on the lunch break and pick up the second babysitter, then scarf down a PB&J sandwich in the car instead of eating a lovely lunch with your peers. Or maybe that’s just me…