Skip to main content

Back to Basics

As I've mentioned previously, I've been banging my head against the brick wall of a synopsis that just doesn't want to be written. While I can often rough out a synopsis within hours (mind you, I generally spend days or even weeks refining afterward) this book's new territory for me and simply won't be rushed.

My first reaction was, Well, be that way. I'll just go ahead and write the full manuscript. But that's left me with the same issues I was facing in the synopsis. While I have what I thing are terrific characters and an awesome set-up with all manner of complications and plenty of ideas about where I want to go with this, what I don't have is crystallized plot line. Not yet, anyway.

So far, I'm tried many of my usual tricks for getting unstuck, including long walks, vacuuming (a true measure of my desperation), even distracting myself with another proposal and other unrelated chores. But while I sense the threads of the story lengthening, they're still stubbornly refusing to knit themselves into a cohesive whole. As I mentioned last week, I pulled out old friend reference, The Writer's Journey, by Chris Vogler, and it has helped, but only to a point. (The sticking point, dagnabbit.)

Still, I refuse to give up and have now moved on to one of the most basic of building block, GMC. For anyone not familiar with the initials, that would be Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Placing different character goals as much in opposition to each other as possible can be terrific for generating the story's external conflict. As I once heard it said, if a dog wants a bone, it's not a story, but if there are two dogs and only one bone, then, you've got a story.

Today's task. Figure out what the bone is and work backward from there. I sense that webbing, a giant sheet of paper, and some pretty color markers may be involved.

Wish me luck, and if anyone else has great plotting hints to share, I'm all ears!


Lark said…
Good luck, Colleen. The project sounds very exciting.

Wish I had some brilliant suggestions but I don't. My only unsticking trick is to download some new music--the edgier the better--into a playlist and listen to the lyrics until something triggers an idea. Or not.
Perhaps the only helpful comment I can say (and it's really more consolation than help) is that at least you're doing this process NOW and not four drafts from now. Of course, I also know this is far from your first novel. I guess no matter how much experience we get, the art's still tricky.

You've probably already seen this, but if you haven't, it's really helped me clarify things for this draft:

In general, I'm finding screenwriting techniques to be very applicable to writing a novel, in the way that I always feel playwriting techniques translate to writing a short story.

Word verification: umusn :)
Thanks for the tip, Kathryn. That's a terrific site.

Yes, it's easier to wrestle a plot to the ground at the synopsis stage. In this case I wrote about 55 pages "blind" before beginning to get to let the characters and premise develop organically.

When I do it this way, it allows me to shape plot while it's more fluid rather than writing down 150-page blind alleys as I've done before. Better yet, it allows editorial input at an earlier stage, which can save you having to do very extensive rewrites when the manuscript is turned in. It's a more efficient way of producing manuscripts, in my opinion, and the best way to keep books in the publishing pipeline. Also, if your idea's not marketable in the current pub climate, you can cut your losses and move onto something more workable.

However, trying to sell on proposal with sample chapters has its own inherent risks. If you botch it at this stage (and my story always evolves into something much better than envisioned by the time its completed) you'll have lost your chance at shopping it again later. Plus, it steals some of the joy at the longer, unfolding process of writing a full for sale.

Some very well established writers opt to only write and market full manuscripts. Most romance authors (who are expected to produce 2 or more books per year) attempt to sell on proposal instead.
Jeanna Thornton said…
Colleen, your project sounds very exciting and I am thrilled you are having so much fun. Sorry, i don't have any suggestions. A deadline for's the way you are used to working. Tell your muse you are leaving town! As you know, I'm still working on my first ms. :)
Thanks, Jeanna. I had a breakthrough writing day today. I was really due one!

The "two dogs, one bone" notion was the trigger. Sometimes, it's the simplest things...

Popular posts from this blog

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": Did you love it or hate it?

Earlier this week, Colleen and I went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", the extraordinary movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved it. Colleen not s'much. (I was sitting there choked in tears at the end of the three hour film, so I only vaguely remember her saying something about "watching paint dry.") I want to see it again, so I'm trying to get the Gare Bear to go with me this weekend, but I won't be surprised if he reacts the same way Colleen did. The movie is long. And odd. It requires patience and a complete suspension of disbelief that modern audiences simply aren't trained for, so you've got to be in the right mood for it. The same is true of the short story, though the story and script have very little in common -- at least superficially. The story is very Fitzgerald (though it's not an example of his best writing, IMHO), and the setting -- Baltimore during the industrial revolution, Spanish Americ

APATHY AND OTHER SMALL VICTORIES by Paul Neilan is only good if you enjoy things like laughter

The only thing Shane cares about is leaving. Usually on a Greyhound bus, right before his life falls apart again. Just like he planned. But this time it's complicated: there's a sadistic corporate climber who thinks she's his girlfriend, a rent-subsidized affair with his landlord's wife, and the bizarrely appealing deaf assistant to Shane's cosmically unstable dentist. When one of the women is murdered, and Shane is the only suspect who doesn't care enough to act like he didn't do it, the question becomes just how he'll clear the good name he never had and doesn't particularly want: his own.