Friday, November 19th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Daydream Confrontation

Elephant Seals - Image from’re dreading it: your review with your boss, a conversation with a best friend, or a conference with your teacher about your grades.

If you’re like me, you amplify those situations in your mind…giving voice and thoughts and mannerisms to your opponent, deciding what they will say, and how you will respond, building and building the encounter until it’s blown out of proportion…

This happened to me just last week. (And it was so anticlimactic when I got my way right out the starting gate and didn’t need to list all the reasons why I needed to do a certain something or use all the arguments against what I thought were going to be the obstacles in my way…)

Sigh. And I was so raring to go.

You’ve had moments like that, right?

Well, don’t let these thoughts go to waste! They make excellent fodder for writing.

Here’s Your Prompt: Think of a situation in which you have to confront someone and 1) ask for something you’re certain you’re not going to get, or 2) tell someone something you really don’t want to say because it will make them __________ (angry, sad, jealous, etc. You fill in the blank).

If you can’t think of a real-life situation, make one up.

Step 1: Just write the dialogue. How do you start off? Do you come right to the point and ask for something, or do you build up to the pitch? Do you try to be tactful and save someone’s hurt feelings? Or, do you give it to them straight knowing you’re going to get blasted with anger, but at least it will be over with quickly? Write from the beginning all the way to the last word of the conversation or argument.

Step 2: Go back to the beginning and 1) set the scene, and 2) add the action. Are you standing or sitting? Perhaps only one of you is standing. Who screams her words? Who cries and wrings his hands? Is it day or night, outside or inside, close to a holiday or an important (to you or your opponent) event?

Step 3: Once more, go to the beginning and start adding little details to give the scene some flavor: who’s wearing a red sweater and black loafers? Who’s long hair gets in the way? What kind of dog barked? Can you hear the sound of rain, a horn blowing, or a voice singing off key in the distance?

Finally: consider how this scene could be included in a story. Is it one of many arguments that two people have during the course of a novel? If so, think of other things these two can argue about, how could you build the plot around the theme of the argument/conversation? Or, could this be the culminating point of a short story? The highpoint? What events could have led up to this “blowout”? How could it be wrapped up?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Do you Plot It, or Pants It?

Book ButterflyA plotter is someone who makes some sort of an outline of their story before he or she sits down to write it. Sometimes this is an exhaustive document, sometimes it’s just a list of scenes or major plot points.

A “pantser” is someone who gets an idea and runs with it: no idea where he’s going, but eventually, he’ll get to the end of the story. (This is writing by the seat of the pants, hence the name.)

I’m a plotter…usually. I like to know where I’m going. It saves me tons of re-writes and I never get writer’s block.

I say “usually” because I’ve just started a novel which I’m pantsing. And it’s killing me. I can’t stand not having an outline. (I don’t know how you pantsers do it.)

The reason I’m pantsing it this time around is because I’m writing a story which is a bit outside of my comfort zone: a contemporary urban fantasy which takes place in Baltimore. I’ve got (what I think is) a fantastic idea…and I’m running with it.

What I need to do is let the idea percolate in my mind for a while before I start to write, but I’m too excited about it. I just want to get it all down on paper…but I don’t know where it’s going to end.

And that’s the problem: if I don’t know how it’s going to end, I can’t plot it out.

I’ve recently signed up for an on-line plot class to see if that could help. Unfortunately, lesson one included writing the beginning of the story (no problem!) and the end (um, problem). The class is designed to fill in the middle.

Well, I could do that on my own…

I’m toying with S. Andrew Swann’s method right now:

A four step exercise in Plot development:

1. Create a character.
2. Give this character a problem to deal with.
3. Imagine at least three different ways this particular character might possibly deal with this particular problem.
4. Pick one (or more) of these options, and imagine at least three different ways it a) wouldn’t work, and b) would make the character’s situation worse. (Short of killing off the protagonist and ending the story.)

It’s promising, and might help me out with lesson one of my online class. With some luck, I’ll have an outline by this weekend.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Once you get an idea for a story, how do you manage the plotting through to the end? What do you do if you’re not quite sure how it will end? What are some strategies or exercises you employ to form a cohesive story?

Here are some fantastic resources on plotting I’ve found while trying to hammer out my plot:

* The Butterfly Story Plot Graphic is from Scholastic. It appears it’s no longer available for download from their sight. (Alas.) If anyone has the pdf, I’d love to have a copy!