Random musings on books and writing
Also, we woke up to a half marathon outside our window. Apparently we live on an interesting enough street to stage ritzy historical races along.
I've been really working on the writing the past couple weeks. Not that I've written a ton of words (well, I have, but most of them are character/plot notes and not running narrative). But I've been trying to change the way I write and break out of a plateau and write better. It's hard. My crit group is pretty helpful with this, though. We've been together on line for nearly 10 years (wow--so long!), and to keep from stagnating, we make a point to have workshops and learn something new every so often. This coming week, we're discussing Mary Kole's excellent book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit. I love this book because it's not written for beginners (I suspect that beginners might think they're getting a lot out of it, but there will be a lot that they miss until they've been writing for a while and learned to see better.) There aren't too many writing books for advanced writers, so I really appreciate this one. My particular chapter to analyze is the one on plot, which is apparently something I need to take a deeper look at. I get it that the main character's actions and choices need to cause the plot to happen--that and the antagonist's choices and efforts, and that things need to be decided once and for all at the end. You have to have an active MC, not someone who just reacts to stuff that randomly happens along the way. But Mary has some points about stakes that I think are pretty important. None of it matters at all unless you take the time to invest in what's at stake. She explains Aristotle's idea of plot as well as her own--but I think plot is really just a matter of loading characters up with enough frightfully important stakes and enough things they are terrified to lose, and then setting them in a room full of other characters loaded up like that, too, except that in the end, not all of them can win. And then, as Stephen King says, you sit back and watch it all unfold. (I feel a lot better reading that from SK. He doesn't like outlines, he likes situations that unfold. MK is rather adamant about outlines, and I confess that they are the fastest way to kill a story dead dead dead for me. Great in revision, terrible idea beforehand. YES, I have a subconscious idea of where the story is going, but if I look at it too explicitly beforehand, it dies. YMMV, and if it does, I'm happy for you.)
So of course I've been reading and analyzing books lately, too. The Statistical Possibility of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith, is a really great example of laying stakes. Not a lot happens in the external plot--two characters fly across the Atlantic and one goes to a wedding. Yet there is a ton of tension and the characters undergo change. And it's because every single event, setting, scene, and character is loaded with meaning. It's extremely well written. I think I need to reread it, actually--I can see it but I can't explain it very well. Also, it was refreshingly different from a lot of what my library has on its shelves right now, namely: Teens Who Must Kill, Evil Governments Who Control Who You Can Date, Waking Up to Amnesia to Discover You are a Clone, or yes, even now--The Hidden World Under NYC You Never Knew About. And all of them take themselves so, so seriously... And I guess...I'm just tired of that? It's like the same story over and over, about a place I don't actually like/want to be/want to fight for. (Actually, I wonder what the story with my library is. There are very few books more than a few years old on the shelves. I'm glad they're into new books--I came home with a nice stack of new releases today--but hopefully it's because they recently got more money or a new librarian, and not because they just toss the old ones. Their all being new is probably why they all seem like iterations on the same dystopian wave, I guess.) Anyway, I'm glad it's almost October because now is when the biggest wave of new book releases come out. Yay!
What are you looking forward to reading this fall?