Tag: fixing plot

Dissecting Story and Character

My friend Skye sent me a very useful link to a blog called Query Shark and I’ve been studying it in order to learn how to write an excellent pitch.  That’s my goal right now, to write an excellent pitch.  There is no part of  life for which such a skill is wasted.  Last Friday I spent all day long reading good queries and bad queries and trying to write my own in my head.  This exercise was illuminating.  It shed light on some serious weaknesses in my approach to my story such as the fact that I kept telling people it was about taking a dangerous trip to Portland in the future when there is no gasoline available to the public anymore and the roads are rough and good people have turned to crime.  Yes, it is, and it isn’t.

In a pitch you have to know your plot as though it was the story of your own life.  And then be god.  If you can’t say what the plot really is then you won’t ever get your story off the ground.  The thing about writing is that you can plan, plot, write organized outlines, but as you write your story will evolve.  This is what I’m learning.  So you have to keep up with your story as a writer, not just keep up but actually get ahead of it.

I know what my story is about and somewhere in the muck of my overstuffed brain is a very clear knowledge of what the core of the whole story is.  I know it all but I am tongue tied.  I can’t explain how it gets so convoluted between my head and my voice.  It’s like I know how to say it in a different language and something keeps getting lost in the translation.

It’s a story about an herbalist who’s father dies and the death taxes are too big and she has to figure out how to make enough money to save her property which is her livelihood.  But she starts finding out that her father was living a double life and she’s the only one who doesn’t know it and so she gets in lots of danger….

Oh my god.  I make myself sound like such an idiot.  YAWN.

Oh right, but the main thing is that her mother was murdered years before and her father’s death uncovers information about her mother’s murder that her father had been keeping from her.

I had to really look at the whole story and ask myself what the most important thing about it is.  Her mother’s death.  So what kind of story is it?

It’s not a mystery.  It sounds like a mystery but there’s no “who dunnit” puzzle to solve as you read.  There’s no detective with magnifying glass to the ground and “fingerprint” powder on his nose.  You get to find out who the murderer is but it doesn’t unfold like a mystery.

A mystery= character spends whole book trying to solve a puzzle.

A suspense= character spends whole book trying to stay alive and in the course of not dying figures stuff out.

The point of a mystery is who committed the crime.

The point of suspense is how a character survives a terrifying experience.

This is a suspense novel.  It doesn’t have lots of carefully laid clues, there’s no path of crumbs to the bad guy.  It’s all about stumbling into danger you didn’t know was there and running until you flush the enemy out and stand them down.

Inspector Lynly=mystery

Charade= suspense  (with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn)

There are certainly some stories that blur that line.

My head is flooded with plot and character.  I am living it and breathing it.  Since getting my head straight about the real core of the story it has become easier to re-map the plot with the little changes that keep evolving the story as I rewrite each chapter.  Characters are becoming sharper and snug little friendships are finding their tension, just as they do in real life.

I read a post by another writer in which she was talking about getting comments from editors about changes they would want to see in her book before they’d think about taking it on.  She writes how she wouldn’t listen to them because every word she wrote, every sentence is perfection and there was no way she could cut the back story to her character because it was so beautiful.


Later she admits that she wrote the backstory to make her book longer so it would be novel sized rather than be a novella.  She ends up admitting that maybe the editors had some points.

I admit that I was absolutely bowled over at the kind of arrogance it would take to suppose that several editors are wrong and she is right.  I think an author has to have an instinct for what they’re doing and there are sure to be sticking points, points that are so important to you that you would rather not publish your story than have it ruined.  Still, what I’m finding out in my experience of writing “Jane Doe” and now “Cricket and Grey” is that you have to absolutely be smitten and absorbed and completely invested in your story to write anything worth reading but how it unfolds is something that is flexible.  If the way you wrote it is confusing to a professional editor then it pays to listen and ask yourself how you can improve your plot so that readers will follow absolutely unaware of you laboring behind the words.  You want the reader not to know you’re there.

Unless that’s the specific style of the writing.

The important thing is to be willing to improve your book.

A writer serves the writing, not the other way around.

I can’t believe I just said that.  I’m going to leave it, because it’s true.

Naturally, if an editor told me they thought Grey should actually be from Wisconsin instead of Scotland I’d tell them to “EFF OFF EEDJIT!”

However, if they said “lay off the Scots slang, it’s too heavy handed” I think I’d listen.

This is where my thoughts are.  This is where my head is.  If I seem distant from friends and family right now it’s because I’m far from everyone.  If I could shut myself away to write eight hours a day, I would.

So much else still hangs uncertain in my life.  My mother is moving in with us in a few weeks.  We’ll have 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 4 people in this house.  We may have to move in three or four months.  All of us.  My kid is a handful right now.  There is the usual life drama.  I’m working hard to get my blue belt in Kung Fu in three months.  I’m working hard to make good food and I still do my official work (the one with the actual paycheck).

The story pulls at me day and night.  I can pay attention to other things for short bursts but there is an urgency now, a complete and desperate need to lock the office door, grow a beard and write.

I have so much to write here, such as a post about the Kung Fu in writing, most hated words, satisfying slang, and I still have that ableist post to finish.

It all waits.

Because I’m not here.  I’m very busy trying to simultaneously kill of and save a person.

I wonder if this is how Vonnegut felt when he wrote?  I wonder if all writers feel this way in the middle of a project?

I don’t know.

I have to go now because I have some responsibilities that have been waiting all morning while I breathed a new smuggler to life named “Butterfly” Jason Jones.

If you need me, good luck.