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Plot as Illumination of Character

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Writer, Know Thyself: Plot & Character

I came to a sudden realization the other day when I was working on Dowse and Bleed then the collaboration and also thinking about all the aggravating articles recently claiming the three-act structure is the only one: I really don't care about plot.

Now, this doesn't mean I dislike plot or that I don't think it's important, but I do mean it's not even a secondary consideration for me. I care about structure because structure is fun, especially for a poet, but I don't take any time to analyze my own plots or even to develop them. That holds no interest for me, and I don't look for a particular plot in books I read. In fact, that's why I adore love stories and am so totally sick of romances. I'm not interested in the "how did they fall in love" and we're done here. I'm interested in two separate people and then how they interact together, etc.

I wrestled with this for another day before I finally came to the conclusion on how I could not care about something so fundamental to story. Most writing articles and books address characters that drive the plot and plots that are born out of the characters' struggles. That makes for a good story, but I'll probably never, ever write that kind of story ever.

I love plots that illuminate character. And that's probably why I tend strongly to the literary side of genre and love Jodi Picoult's books, even though I've heard some genre writers sneer at them. Her books are complicated messy stories about characters. The plots reveal the characters, rather than characters driving the plot.

Dowse and Bleed is the most incredibly plotty story I've ever written in my life. When I wrote that first draft, it was a quick ramble through a decent, engaging plot, but when I came back to it, it was with two questions: whose story is this and why is it her story? Out flowed something considerably deeper and much more 'me.' The plot is secondary because it exists to reveal something about Rachelle and no other reason.

This is also why I haven't been able to get through Collateral Damage yet, I'm pretty sure, or any of the other Special Unit fics percolating in my head. That revelation, that core idea, isn't there for me yet. I wrote Dowse and Bleed from a prompt about the sides of love:

I've looked at love from both sides now / From give and take, and still somehow / It's love's illusions I recall / I really don't know love at all

"Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell

It's not this perfect match with Rachelle, but it was close enough for me to devote a story to this relationship she has to love and the idea of love. It was an interesting revelation for me.

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The Great Novel

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Writer, Know Thyself: Plot & Character

I had a revelation in the line of "Writer, know thyself" and decided to share.

There are several goals you hear a lot with writers. None of these goals are mutually exclusive. They often overlap in the same writer, same story, and often diverge in the same writer, different story.

  • Some seek to write literature, stories that mean something, that will be remembered because of their richness or their scope or their significance, etc.
  • Some seek to tell a good story, one that people can relate to and enjoy and want more like it.
  • Some seek to work out their own ideas, questions, or feelings on the page through the means of fiction. (Think Aldous Huxley.)
  • Some seek to give the characters in their mind an outlet and gain themselves some peace.

And you know what?

Any time I tried to write literature, I never could. I've tried. I really, really want to write something that means something and lasts and is worthy of being remembered.

Any time I tried to tell a good story, I got bored before I get through with it. I wrote a sketch and got complaints from my beta—if I was uncomplaining enough to even ship it to her.

Any time I start with a theme or idea, the story dies so quickly on the vine, I might as well have outlined. (I'm one of those writers for whom an outline is a gun—or a nuclear bomb. Outlines for me are storykillers of the first degree.)

I have never been able to do it. I have written many different ways, but the more I consider my issues with plot, the more I realize how absolutely my muse eschews it as a viable factor to be intentional about, which also perfectly explains why I'm always frustrating my beta who as a reader, loves my ideas and wishes I wouldn't skim them instead of dive headlong in.

In fact, almost anyone reading this will remember what I have stated before seems to be my story method, the one which allows me to start with a sentence and reach the end or do a whole write and revise morass that was thoroughly planned.

If you know your premise, your characters, and the rules of your world, then the rest is inevitable but unpredictable, even to you.

Characters are not plot. They aren't even stories—they have them, but exploring characters seems to be the only way I know how to write.

Premise is not plot. Premise is the big idea—or two actually, in my case. I have always had to have two factors to the premise before it's interesting enough to start me scribbling. The world is merely parameters I can use to dig deep into my characters. The premise is merely parameters I can use to dig deep into ideas.

Many of my premises are metaphor and symbology, which is why I don't mind using fictional elements like personality-shaping, conjoined minds, mindreading, soul-based powers, etc. Because I'm commenting through the use of these elements on what we actually do in the real world with our personalities, thoughts, souls.

Plot is "the rest" referred to in that paragraph. As my wonderful beta pointed out recently, all the story elements are tied together and grow out of each other and affect each other, even the ones I tend to ignore until they need weeding.

My method of plotting is beyond risky and I don't recommend it. I generally let it emerge in the same way I let theme emerge because if I pre-plan it too soon, I can't write the story. The story for me is the character. The character arc defines the story. But it's messy. It's literary. Sometimes I vignette a snapshot instead of an arc. Sometimes I show an arc but forget to show the world that makes it make sense. Sometimes I write a novel/ette and am required to stop, drop, and plot in the middle because I finally know enough to do it without killing my creative impulse, but it takes me forever because I don't really plot all that often.

This usually happens when, at the time I start writing, I have too many characters I don't know or too many rules of my world I don't know.

This is my weakness, and it's good to be able to put a face on it at last because I've always wanted to write that great novel and I've always wanted to tell that awesome story and I've always wanted to explore the ideas that pound on the inside of my skull, begging to be let out but sniffing at essays in disdain. The only way I've ever been able to do it was by digging into character.

It gives me a different perspective and one that may help me start pushing myself into plot and finished works if I can view plot through that lens and find a way to connect with it.

What do you know, learn something new every day.

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