Saturday, August 02, 2008

on plot and structure

Somebody asked me once, "How do you plot?" and I wrote a long and clumsy Impressionist essay about my method. Now I have this book before me, How to Write by Richard Rhodes, which Sit seemed to feel I need to read. He does that periodically, walks up and hands one of us a book with the tacit command to read it and report back.

Generally I am disinterested in other peoples' methods of writing; I've pretty much got it figured out by now and it's merely a matter of how much effort I want to put into it. But because I am lazy, it's often useful to me to borrow the words of others, and Rhodes uses an interesting metaphor, in Chapter Five, for the process of outlining or structuring a piece of writing.

I doubt if many professional writers prepare a formal outline, except perhaps as part of a book proposal in pursuit of an advance... Organizing information isn't the same as structuring a work of writing. Structuring a work of writing is more like generalship. A general needs to know what troops and weapons he commands and how they're deployed, but he also needs to develop a strategy for fighting battles and winning the war. The battles probably won't go as he plans, of course. If his strategy is sufficiently flexible, he'll be able to adapt it to circumstances and still come out victorious.


That's a very good way of putting it, I think. When I am working, and I did write a hefty chunk of Trace last week, it feels much as if I am moving chess pieces around. All my characters have set personalities and traits (I think of them as having certain "vibes") and I know how they're going to behave. Like chess pieces, they have specific duties and ways of moving. I know also, usually, that I am taking them from one side of the board to the other. (I don't like starting a story if I don't know where the characters are going; the story tends to fizzle out if I don't have at least a vague goal for the ending.) But how the pieces move along the way is a vast gray murk of possibilities. When I know my characters well, I am free to move them around, bounce them off each other, let them behave as they are designed to do. It is quite literally a virtual reality of which I am the not so much the Goddess, but the Chronicler.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It pleases me that you are writing again.
SG