27 December 2010

Finalizing My Plot

I've been working on a plot for my novel for the past 4 months and I'm now coming to a final summary and what I believe to be something very workable. Why has this taken me 4 months? Because, I’ve read 4 or 5 books now to try and help me in getting started with my first novel. I hope those authors enjoy the royalties from my purchase. Here’s more of a comprehensive idea of how I discovered what works for me.

How many times do we consider a story in our heads and think we'll just put it down on paper? I do it all the time with short stories. My biggest problem when I start putting my story on paper is that I realize that two dimensional characters are really difficult to work with when writing down a story where you are just explaining this happened, and then this, and then, well...this happened. Not really like that, but pretty close. It's rather painful. When self-help books for writers say to just sit down and start writing, this is what happens.

So then I stopped writing the story. Now I had to consider why someone would do this or that and why another character would react in the way I described in my story. Aren't I being a bit selfish as a storyteller at this point? I'm not giving any consideration to my characters at all, just making them do things that maybe they feel like they wouldn't EVER in a million years respond the way I described. How did I come to realize this though? Enter my 16 year old daughter.

I'm telling her about this story and the interaction between two of my characters and she goes, "The hell? If I were that chick, I wouldn't just sit there and not say anything about her boyfriend being out with another girl the night before, no way! I'd let him have it right then and there."

Okay, so now, two months into my story I have a dilemma, right? How do I fix this situation in my story so that the reader believes the situations? How do I make my scenes realistic to anyone reading my novel? Sure, my daughter wouldn’t react that way, but not everyone is my daughter. Her friend Jenna wouldn't react that way either, but Jenna would respond in a completely different way than my daughter as well as my fictional character. So now what? So now I have to make my characters believable. I have to give them more depth. Back to the drawing board.

Now I have Lenny and Emma. And being that they are fleshed out to be their own persons, I can have them communicate with each other in manners that are completely within their characters and the reader will not put themselves in the place of either character, but can move along the story beside them. Not a major hurdle, but I'm getting somewhere at least.

Now, onto plot. I have my story started, my believable characters, both whom I love dearly at this point. Dammit, writer's block! These are two complete different people here. How is it that they are friends to begin with? What happened to my story? It doesn’t work anymore.

Month 3 - depression, work slows to a standstill, fiction writing class is ending. Time for Christmas shopping, planning events and so on. It's a good thing I didn't have any time for writing. This whole time I'm thinking about the fact that I have no story to create for these two completely different people that are swimming around in my head. Back to the drawing board. :(

Month 4 - brilliance! Both characters will have parallel journeys! One, a journey toward a blossoming relationship with her mother, the other toward the discovery of turmoil in a relationship with her fiancé. The journeys will give me that chance to give them the depth and characterization that I need for my plot to work!

I guess 4 months of trying to figure this out has led me to a more confident and positive approach to story compilation. Call me a newbie, but I'd rather learn as I go than to create something that in the end leaves my reader going, "Huh? So what's the point?" or maybe even putting down the book before finishing the first chapter.

How do you discover your final plot? Do you discover it or do you start out knowing exactly what's going to happen?

21 December 2010

Time is NOT Money

This year during the Holidays, I put forth some of my time to help with one of the local Toys For Tots charity events. It was the first year that I attended all of the committee meetings for the annual pig-picking drive for toys. I cannot tell you how much my heart has grown this Holiday season and I believe it is because of this experience that I had.

Not only did we provide food, drinks and entertainment for over 900 guests participating in the drive for more toys, we also helped gather donations and toys for over 1300 families. The amazing part of this whole effort is that we worked side by side with work-release prisoners, categorizing toys and bagging in masses for families throughout the local community. I hoped that the other workers were also experiencing this feeling of euphoria.

It was tedious work, but after the third and fourth bag that I compiled for families with 2 to 3 children of varying ages, I felt like I was the one giving these toys to the families. I carefully chose each stuffed animal, each of the two stocking stuffers per child, each game, book and toy for the appropriate age groups.

As I was stuffing these bags, I became overwhelmed as I imagined the look of surprise on the children's faces Christmas morning. The gift I was giving was only of my time, but I was the one who received the biggest gift of all, this enormous gift of feeling worthy and good.

If you have the opportunity to join a group that works for the betterment of your community or for those less fortunate than you, I strongly urge you to participate. It has helped me understand the difference between obligation and just plain goodwill.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. I didn't get to keep Clyde, but here's a picture of us bonding after a very long day.

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