Thursday, December 8, 2011

What is Plot anyway?

We all know that without a plot, you have no story...but what is plot anyway?  One way to explain plot, is that it is movement through time.
     First, a plot moves chronologically. A plot begins at one point in time and progresses through to a later time. A plot may cover a period of years or merely a few moments. Alex Haley's novel Roots traces the history of a family over many years. Other novels concentrate on one central character's journey from cradle to grave, such a William Makepeace Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. Plotting a story over a long time period gives it an epic feel, and it provides the pleasure we associate with the great old novels, such as War and Peace. The reader enters what feels like a parallel universe and "lives" there for a while.
     However, the amount of time a plot covers in fiction can also be very short. The most memorable example of this might be the short story by Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. A confederate spy is being hanged upon a bridge. As he drops, the rope breaks and he goes through an extraordinary, surreal escape back to his own plantation. Just as he is about to embrace his wife, the rope breaks his neck. He has imagined his entire escape as he dropped from the plank to the end of the rope. Bierce's ending is one of the greatest surprises in literature, yet is emotionally wrenching even when you know it's coming. As a whole, the plot takes place in seconds.
     Ah, but those of you who favor science fiction might offer the following: A character goes into the past with a time machine. He goes back to medieval times. He has a hard time adjusting, but when the time comes for him to return to the present, he chooses to stay with the woman he loves. So, then, you might say, the plot isn't chronological. The character goes backward in time!
     Sorry, you know better than that. The character is experiencing one thing following another. Whether he experiences this succession of things in different settings is irrelevant. The "past" is "another country," things are done differently there. A character begins in one setting, say, France, in the present and takes a time machine into another setting, say Burgundy, in the twelfth century. It isn't any different than if he had taken a train from France to Belgium without a time machine. His time is still moving in one chronological direction. He is experiencing one thing after another.
     Another aspect of plot chronology that should be made clear is this: in many stories, the plot is presented nonchronologically. We experience parts of the plot out of the order in which they occurred. The has long been a technique of the novelist, though most novels are pretty straight-forward in going from the beginning to the end.
     Underlying these variations on presenting the plot is the plot itself. Such stories allow us to see the plot in a different way and reveal something about character or morality or whatever that might not be as obvious if the story were told in a chronological order.
                                                  Excerpted from Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
In fiction writing we are taught to NEVER start a story at the beginning....but to open the first scene somewhere in the "middle" of the story.  So, for us, the middle is the beginning....and the "real beginning" is our back story, which we cleverly spoon-feed in at an appropriate spot, so as not to be obvious.  We can all do that, right?

Keep Writing, Ya'all,
Sunny Marie

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting for the Mood to be Right?

If you're waiting for the "right mood" before you sit down to write...this is a mistake.  Why?

While writing is an emotional art form, it is also a business.  Too many people, when they are first starting out, think it's all about working when the mood is right.  They might be waiting a very long time. Most writers I've talked to say that what they write when the mood is right is pretty much the same as what they write when the mood isn't.  While a large part of a writer's work consists of thinking, a writer isn't paid for those thoughts. A writer is paid for the words that are written.

Another mistake...too many beginning writers try to be artists before they master the craft of writing. While in every generation there are some natural-born geniuses who can make that leap, the vast majority of us have to toil away at learning the craft.

There are very few professions in which someone would expect to walk in and be accepted at the highest levels right from the start. Yet, for some reason, people think writing is a profession in which amateurs can enter right at the top level.  This is a mistake.  So, what should you do?

Learn the craft of writing. First and foremost, learn it by writing a lot. There is no substitute for actually doing something in order to learn it.  Then get feedback from those who know more about the craft than you do, either through a network of friends, a writer's group, a writing retreat, a writing conference, a mentor, whatever you can find. An MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in creative writing is another possibility, although usually the focus in those programs is more on literary writing.
                                                                                                     Taken from: 70 Solutions To Writing Mistakes

Well, friends, it is my sad news to let you know I did not make the 50K word goal for NaNoWriMo this year.  Due a 10 day or so illness, I fell so far behind I just couldn't catch up.  But, there's always next year.
Congrats to everyone who participated in NaNo and made their goals.  Yeah!

Keep Writing, Ya'all,
Sunny Marie

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ever wonder why...?

Those of you who sign up every year on November 1st to be a part of the month long writing frenzy known as NaNoWriMo...have you ever wondered why the goal is to write 50,000 words by November 30th?

Well, Chris Baty explains this in his book, No Plot, No Problem.
"I'd like to say that NaNoWriMo's 50,000-word threshold was achieved by a scientific assessment of the great short novels of our age. The real story is that when I started this whole month-long noveling escapade (five years ago), I simply grabbed the shortest novel on my shelf--which happened to be Aldous Huxley's Brave New World--did a rough word count of it, and went with that figure."
Chris continues by saying...
"Over the years, though, 50,000 words has proven itself a good goal for a month's labors. Writing 50,000 words in a month breaks down to about 1,667 words per day. Most average typists will be able to dispatch that in an hour and a half, which makes it doable, even for people with full-time jobs and chaotic home lives. Fifty thousand words is also just large enough for someone writing concisely to sketch an entire story arc within its borders. And yet, despite its short stature, a 50,000 word novel is no cakewalk. Only about 17 percent of National Novel Writing Month participants reach the 50,000-word finish line every year, and some have argued that the number should be lowered."
Chris concludes with...
"I think the number is perfect. Because you're covering so much ground, so quickly, the high number forces you to lower your expectations for your prose, to write for quantity over quality, and to stop being so hard on yourself. And this, for a first draft, is the pathway to genius."

So, there you have it...from the horses mouth, so to speak.  From my own experience, I can tell you it's not easy to make the 50,000 word goal. You have to be dedicated to sitting in front of the computer and writing "something" every single day.  If you get behind, it's not a easy task to get caught up and be on target with word count for each day.

As of this moment, I'm sitting at 18,620 words...slightly over where I need to be for day 11.  So for the moment I'm ahead of the game, but I can't slack up now. In a few minutes I'll be pounding away on the keyboard to get a few more words on the page before the sun comes up in the morning.  If any of you are NaNo-ing this year, I hope your word count is right on target...keep at it. Let's be winners this year.

Keep Writing, Ya'all,
Sunny Marie

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What's A Story?

A story is a "narrative of events."

Little Red Riding Hood goes into the woods, meets the wolf, takes a short cut to grandma's, meets the wolf again, says "My what big teeth you have," the woodcutter comes and chops up the wolf. A narrative of events is a simple recounting or retelling of something that happened, either in the "real" world, or in a "fictional" world.  The story of Little Red Riding Hood is clearly a narrative of events.  It is also a narrative of events when the old man goes out to catch the big fish, or when Michael Corleone goes out to kill his father's enemies, or when Leamas, the spy, goes out into the cold.  Any story is a narrative of events.  But that is not all it is.

Consider this narrative of events:
Joe hops out of bed, dresses, packs a lunch, gets into his car. He drives a few blocks to his girlfriend's place and picks her up.  Her name is Sally.  They drive to the beach where they lie on the hot sand all day, then have a nice seafood dinner.  On the way home they stop for ice cream.  This is a narrative of events, but is it a story?

Most readers, instinctively, would sense that it is not.  The reason is that the events are not worth reading about.  The events must be of interest.  So what if Joe goes to the beach with his girlfriend?  So what if they have a dinner?  The events of this narrative have no meaning because the events have no consequences.  If we define a story as a "narrative of events," we have not gone far enough in our definition.  We must add that is is a "narrative of consequential events."

Besides consequential events a story has to involve human characters.  And not only human characters, but human characters that are worthy of our attention.  No one wants to read about characters who are just anybody.  They want to read about interesting somebodies, characters capable of evoking in the reader some measure of emotional response. 

An expanded definition of story now would be: "A story is a narrative of events involving worthy human characters and consequential events."

This definition is good but still not complete.  What is missing is that the characters must change as a result of conflict.  If a character waltzes through a story unaffected by the events and sufferings he sees and endures, then the narrative of events is not a story at all, but merely an adventure.

A complete definition, then, is: A story is a narrative of consequential events involving worthy human characters who change as a result of those events.
                                   Excerpted from How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey

If you will remember the above definition of "a story" when you set out to write a short story or novel, and incorporate these elements in your writing, you'll have created a piece of work worthy of being published.

Keep Writing, Ya'all,
Sunny Marie

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Are you comitted?

I had the privilege of hearing Nancy Holder speak at Yosemite Romance Writers this past week.  Nancy's work has appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, LA Times, amazon.com, LOCUS, and other bestseller lists.  She is a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Assoc....and it goes on and on.

She and co-author Debbie Viguie' wrote the bestselling series WICKED for Simon and Schuster...and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Check out her web site: http://www.nancyholder.com/

At the YRW meeting, Nancy spoke of what it takes to be a writer...really be a writer.  Be committed and make time to write.  Haven't we heard that before?  But she says we must immerse ourselves in what we're writing and stick to it.  Feel the passion in our story, harness that passion to create emotion in our writing.   If you find yourself in a "writer's block", spend at least two hours alone; go for a walk, take a trip to the beach...do something that will allow you to "recharge."  She says successful writing takes working 10,000 hours or more on your craft.  And, she said something that helps her to get into the "groove" of what she's writing, is listing to music that she's specifically organized for the particular story she's working on.  Each time she sits down to work, she plays the music that inspires her to write in that venue.

Her words of wisdom: The more you work as a writer, the more you know what needs to get done.

I hope you'll find this post inspiring to your writing. And as I always say,
Keep Writing, ya'all.
Sunny Marie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Did you know?

   According to a British television documentary aired in Dec. 2005, scientist from three leading universities studied 80 of the famed Agatha Christie's works and discovered she used words that invoked chemical responses in the brains of her readers.
   The study called The Agatha Project, involved loading Christie's novels into a computer and analyzing her words, phrases and sentences.  The scientist concluded that her phrases trigger a pleasure response.  This causes people to seek out her books again and again, almost like an addiction.
   The study found that common phrases used by Christie act as a trigger to raise levels of serotonin and endorphins, the chemical messengers in the brain that induce pleasure.
   Apparently Agatha Christie used Hypnotic Writing to make her books--as one scientist said--unputdownable!
   It sure worked for her.  Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (1890-1976) is possibly the world's best-known mystery writer.  The Guinness Book of Records lists her as the best-selling fiction author of all time with over two billion copies in print in the English language.
   The study went on to report the following about Agatha's writings: Favorite words or phrases, repeatedly used in a "mesmerizing" way, help stimulate the pleasure-inducing side of the brain.  They include: she, yes, girl, kind, smiled, and suddenly.
   This excerpt was taken form Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vitale

Who would have ever thought such tiny words could play such a large role in getting and keeping a reader base.   It work very well for Agatha, wouldn't you agree?

Until next time, keep writing ya'all,
Sunny Marie