Category Archives: Plot

Point of View

My “new” novel is one that I wrote during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. (It was a great experience. If you’re considering trying NaNoWriMo this year, I highly recommend it.)

I wrote that story based on characters I first met in the pages of my notebook. I’ve been working with my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo draft and with notebook entries about these characters who have been running around in my head for a while. We’re old friends by now.

Before I start my next draft, I want to solidify the plot so I won’t wind up without one like I did with my last novel. I’ve been focusing on creating conflict and drama. So far, I have a villain, a mystery and I’m toying with a love interest for my main character, Jenny. I know how the story starts, how it ends and, although I’m still working on the middle, I’m making progress. I’m almost ready to dive into the next verson of the manuscript.

What I haven’t figured out yet is what point of view to use. A few of my freewriting exercises have been in first person, but it usually feels more natural to me to write in third. Until last week, I thought I’d be writing this draft entirely from Jenny’s point of view. Now, I’m not so sure.

The more I work on this novel, the more I feel like the secondary characters have interesting tales to tell. Jenny is still my heroine, but the story is beginning to feel like an ensemble piece.

I’ve been told that if a scene isn’t working, try writing it from another character’s point of view. I’ve also read that the best point of view character in each scene is the one with the most to lose. If I confine myself to Jenny’s point of view, I’ll lose that flexibility, but if I use multiple points of view, I run the risk of diluting Jenny’s story.

As a reader, I don’t have a preference for first or third person. I enjoy stories with one narrator as well as stories that shift point of view from character to character. What about you? When you read, do you have a preference? Any pet peeves? I’d love to hear your thoughts on point of view.

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Filed under free writing, Manuscript, novels, Plot, Writing

When I’m Not at My Desk

I’m in the Garden

When I was a little girl, my parents had a vegetable garden at the bottom of the yard. Every summer, they would harvest and can what they grew, so we had home-grown vegetables all winter long. We stored the glass jars in a cupboard in the basement and even though I hated to go downstairs alone, it was a treat to choose the vegetable for dinner.

I remember sitting on the back steps with my sister, a bowl and a brown paper sack of green beans between us. My fingers always got tired, but I never minded snapping beans. The ends went back into the bag for the compost pile and the short pieces went into the bowl for Mom to can, except for the ones that made their way into our mouths. I still love the crunch of raw beans.

Eventually, Mom and Dad gave up the vegetable garden and that was the end of those steamy summer afternoons spent canning in our small midwestern kitchen.

My first house was a rental, but I couldn’t stop myself from planting a few blooms in the beds next to the front door. Every time we moved, what made the new place feel like home was working in the garden, editing out plants I didn’t like and putting in my favorites: lavender and roses, rosemary and sage. I still plant those, but now I like to try new plants, too, especially natives and drought tolerant varieties like California Lilac and sun drops.

This year, I made small raised bed for vegetables. Over the winter I grew radishes and lettuce; in the spring, carrots, onions and peas. What fun to check on the progress of my seedlings every morning, to stain my fingers pink harvesting radishes, to nibble on pea pods out in the yard.

I love the time I spend outdoors getting dirt under my fingernails, even if I’m only pulling weeds. It’s mostly mindless work. My eyes find the unwanted plants and my fingers ease them out of the ground while my brain is busy working out plot problems and imagining scenes. I can’t draw or paint to save my life, but planting a new bed lets me play with shape and color.  Perhaps even more importantly, I rest my eyes on green plants and work out the kinks in my muscles after too many hours spent staring at a computer screen.

Gardening gets me outdoors, keeps me moving and is cheaper than a gym membership. It’s the perfect complement to my writing life.

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Filed under Art, Gardening, Plot, Writing

Free Writing

The Vista al Valle Trail in Warner Springs is only 3 miles, but the elevation gain is 1100 feet and our time was limited, so we decided to take a short nature walk out and back instead of making the full circuit.  We had our trail map and a guide describing the terrain and the views we would see.

At marker one, though, there was a fork in the trail and we weren’t sure which route to take.  We chose the widest of the paths and we set off.  We never saw another trail marker.

Eventually, we reached a dead-end and we had to retrace our steps back to the trailhead. I don’t know what we missed by taking the “wrong” route, but I do know what we gained.  As we walked quietly, listening to bird songs and the rustle of small animals moving in the dried grass along the trail, we heard the unmistakable sound of water  tumbling over rocks.  Just off the path, we found a shallow stream.

There aren’t many creeks that run in San Diego County in mid-July, but we were lucky enough to discover one with a small waterfall that was just barely visible through the trees upstream.

As I work on my new novel, I’m starting first by drawing a map of the plot.  I want to plan my route with scenes that will keep the story moving forward and that will encourage a reader to turn the page.  I want to decide on my final destination before I begin writing.

I wouldn’t be comfortable striking out into the back country with no knowledge of the landmarks to guide me safely along the trail and I don’t want to write my novel blindly with no idea of where I want the story to go.  At the same time, I have to be open to wrong turns and unexpected vistas.  I may think I know what will happen in a scene, but when I pick up my pen, I have to be willing to let my imagination take a detour.

With free writing, if I let myself, I follow a fresh path every time I use a prompt or idea.  So maybe today I’ll write a scene and veer off in a direction that I didn’t envision when I first plotted my story.  Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll open with the same image and then try another approach.  It might lead me to a dead-end, or maybe it will be a shortcut to the place I want to end up.  I can wander through my story until I find the route that works best.  My pen might run out of ink with all of these detours, but I won’t get sunburned or rub blisters on my heels.  Still, I just might find a hidden waterfall.

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Filed under free writing, Hiking, Plot, Writing

To plot? Or not?

I’ve run across an ongoing conversation in the blogosphere about the best way to write a novel.  There are those who outline and plan before beginning a draft.  They’re called “plotters” or sometimes “plodders.”  I’m sure that second term is meant with affection.

Others simply write, letting the story grow organically, discovering the plot and characters along the way.  I’ve seen those writers called “pantsers” for their tendency to fly by the seat of their pants.  E.L. Doctorow said that writing is “like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m guessing that he’s a “pantser.”

Although there are a few with extreme opinions (like certain authors of child-rearing and dog-training books who suggest that using any method other than the one they espouse will doom the reader to failure), most writers seem to believe that the best way to write is the one that works for the individual writer.

I’ve been writing for almost eighteen years but I’m still not sure exactly what works for me.  I’ve always done some plotting and some free-writing in the course of a project.  Considering the weakness of the plot of my previous novel, I’m going to try a more deliberate plotting approach this time.

Since I’m the type of person who likes to draw a map of a room before moving the furniture, I have a feeling that I might have better luck with my next novel if I plan first.  Perhaps I should have realized this sooner.

There are many books on plotting to use as a guide.  Two that I’ve often heard mentioned as good resources are:

Story by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Both writers have backgrounds in film, which makes sense to me since the novel is a descendent of theater.  Where would we be without Shakespeare?

Lately, I’ve been following Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog.  She analyzes well-knows films to demonstrate how film plots work and offers suggestions and assignments to help writers plan a compelling storyline.  I was delighted to discover that she’s compiled many of her posts into an affordable e-book, also titled Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.

I’m off to work on my new novel, plotting and planning, but I also can’t forget another quotation from E.L. Doctorow.   “Planning to write is not writing.  Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing.  Writing is writing.”

So, while I plan my novel, I’ll continue to write.  Maybe I’ll free-write to discover backstory, to flesh out my characters or to explore possible scenes.  Or perhaps I’ll take a side trip into a short story or an essay.  I hope that this time it won’t take six years to write my novel.  And I hope that when I get to the end, I’ll have a well-plotted story.

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Filed under novels, Plot, Writing