Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scratching My Head

Every once and a while, it feels like I’ve completely forgotten how to write a novel. I can’t figure out where to start, or how to plow forward. So what do these people do, I whine to myself. What gets the plot moving, or worse, what is the frickin’ plot? That’s when the digging begins.

And for digging, I find the most useful tool is a large, 11x 17 or 17 x 21 sheet of graph paper. I take that big piece of paper and write the protagonist’s name and any other major players, along with any plot goals I may know of, for example, a quest for the emerald tablet. Then I just do that whole brainstorming thing where I try to fill in the following sentences:

Theodosia wants
Wigmere wants
Sticky Will wants
Stilton wants
Fagenbush wants
Awi Bubu wants

Somehow, seeing it visually helps my brain forge the connections and possibilities that merely listing them or thinking about them doesn’t.

Then once I have some vague goals for people, I begin fleshing out why they want it. Because I’ll have to show that in order for their goals to makes sense, so that gives me some great scene material.

Next, I find out what is in the way of their goals. If my muse is on top of her game, I find that many of the characters are standing in each others way, which means I have a nice big connected tangle of goals and conflict that all tie in to the major plot. Usually there are one or two dangling, like Will’s. Will wants to provide for his brothers and keep and earn Wigmere’s respect. However, in my current plot, that’s not really threatened or in any kind of danger. So now I have to brainstorm some action, plot thread, or layer that pulls that goal into the main story.

Plotting. Not for the faint-hearted.