AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 3

Earlier during NaNoWriMo I tweeted the following:

  • I made the mistake of having my mac read out my #NaNoWriMo draft to me. Not that it’s bad, but I didn’t realize that it had themes. I cried.

  • Not that my #NaNoWriMo draft is perfect either. It needs lots of revisions. But I felt like I was revealing something unfortunate inside me.

  • If the stories you write expose the inner you, how do published writers ever bear their work open to the public? #NaNoWriMo Seriously asking

Apparently this is par for the course as far as writing fiction, commercial or literary, goes. To get really good plots, Bell argues, you must go directly to the source: writing who you are.

This doesn’t mean writing an autobiography. It means… well… writing about the things that you care about (one way or another; JMS is a notable athiest but writes an awful lot of good religious characters). Writing things that you experienced yourself or through others.

I’m not sure that I entirely believe him, but it’s food for thought. And this NaNoWriMo book, the only one I ever felt was any good (relatively speaking), is one that I feel takes my soul out and leaves it there for the reader to look at. Not directly, but through the themes and characters.

I’m more comfortable with the other part of this chapter: where Bell talks about figuring out which of the many ideas you’re going to come up with are actually good. Like plots or scenes, it turns out you have to brainstorm ideas too, and not merely wait for the gods to give you insight.

This strikes me as the perfect exercise to do before NaNoWriMo: instead of concentrating on one idea, come up with many ideas, and then sift through and find the one that resonates with you. Bell gives a methodology and some brainstorming tips, some which are quite solid, from the old “what-if” game, to music (I’ve found Epic Soul Factory to cover a lot of genres), to coming up with a character and deciding what the worstest thing ever is that you can do to them, etc. There are also ones I find questionable (in particular, trying to predict a trend).

On mind-mapping, which I could never get a handle over, Bell says to see “Rico’s Writing the Natural Way, chapter five”. It’s unfortunately not available as an ebook, so I’m unlikely to read it.

And of course, during NaNoWriMo, desperation seems the default option.

He also gives a way to evaluate the ideas, in pyramid form:

  • The Base: Passion. Without caring for the story, what you write will be lackluster. Any idea you don’t care about should never get past this filter. (But I’ve also seen writers say that it’s the one-off ideas, rather than their ONE DRIVING LOVE OMG that took off.)

  • The Middle: Potential. Basically, audience reach, which should involve market research. Potential doesn’t have to be maximized. (What I think is most important is this: do you think it’s worth 50k words?)

  • The top: Precision. Precision is the bread and butter of any writer (the ability to turn a simile or add character-specific pop to description or dialogue comes to mind); handwaving is rarely interesting.

As you can see, apart from precision, I don’t like the pyramid very much. This may have been the place where I dropped the book previously, which just means that I have an interesting adventure going forth.

When I think about how I got my NaNoWriMo idea, it was a one-off I just tweeted one day. I decided to recycle some parts from other ideas into this one, and then it took off in an entirely different way. Passion definitely came later, not before.

So how did you decide on your NaNoWriMo idea? Did your evaluation fit into this funky pyramid?

(Borrow or buy his book! It’s pretty decent despite this chapter that I consider semi-fluff, but it is still actually useful.)