Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wisdom + Plots = Thickening

At a Sisters In Crime chapter meeting yesterday I moderated a panel discussion about plotting. It was really interesting to hear how four different writers start at four different places when they write a book.


Suzanne Arruda, author of a history/mystery series with an African setting told us that since she already has her heroine, her starting point for each new book is the villain. Once she has him/her, she can begin to write. Then she plays a sort of devil's advocate with her villain, in effect forcing the villain to prove to her that he did it and that nobody else could have done it. She says there comes a moment when she discovers one clue which points to the villain and only the villain. But up until then she's willing to consider any of the other suspects.

N.M. Kelby, whose most recent novel is Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill, said that because she was a reporter for years, she always starts with the scene of the crime. She acts like a reporter, coming onto the scene, seeing what's there, and branching out from that center. She's not interested in the crime so much as she is in its effect on the community around it, essentially going up to all of her characters and asking, like a reporter, "Your family just got killed. How do you feel?"

Juliet Kincaid, who was an English professor for 24 years, explained how she uses classic theory that dictates that every novel has to have six essential scenes--beginning, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, climax, denouement.

Joel Goldman, who is an Edgar and Shamus-award nominated author of "lawyer mysteries," talked about plot in relation to how the author connects a series of seemingly random events. He recommended a book, The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Madinow, and he also recommended reading, "Why do good ideas come to us when they do?, which is an article in the July 28 issue of The New Yorker magazine. He quoted Albert Einstein: It is a magnificent feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena which appear to be things quite apart from the direct physical truth. Joel praised what he called "the discipline of the undisciplined mind," which refers to a writer's insistence on creating time and space for Not Thinking, so that epiphanies and ideas can pour in. He makes that space when he takes 3-5 mile walks every day.

16 comments:

Nancy P said...

I promise an Andif photo in my next post! I can make this presumptuous promise because I have a bunch of her masterpieces in my photo library. Or, maybe she has a new one. . .I say in my best passive aggressive voice.

Fri. and Sat. were my weekend. Back to writing today! (Sunday)

AndiF said...

Good morning, oh queen of passive-aggressive research who didn't notice the picture link in the last post.

But since you asked in such fine p-a mode, I'll give you that link again here plus a new one for people -- like anon who asked for one with delicately wrought guilt-inducement -- who were paying attention. ;)

pic from last post [LINK]

Passive-aggressive bonus [LINK]

Lisa Miller said...

Nancy, I absolutely love reading your examples of how different author's think. But then as a teacher I guess being interested in the mind is my thing. I'm going to show this to my critique partner. She and I enjoy discussing the writing process. She's been working on her book 2 in a series. I'll be interested in how she started that process.

Andif--I am seldom passive aggressive, just plain bossy or my students would use another B word.
Your first picture struck me as light from God. Almost crosslike in it's shape through the trees. Comforting.
I'm not the organized religous type, I find my spiritualism often as I walk with nature.
The second picture was more of an alien beam me up light. More intense than the first.
Must go write. Kids are coming into
town today so we must be good parents--feed them well (David already cooked brisket).

Sumptuous Sunday to all.

paul lamb said...

Sounds like it was an interesting meeting. I wish I could have been there (but other obligtions stole my Saturday away -- that my change this fall). I'll have to muse on these points and come back with another comment.

Kelly McCullough said...

Every time I read another author's method for a particular task the part of my brain that is responsible for the same end result function has a little hiccup, something like That's interesting . . . but it would never work. There are thousand ways and one to write a novel, every one of them correct. And, in regards to yesterday's discussion, there ten thousand and one ways to screw one up.

BTW, on that, Anon, I hope I didn't seem snippy or anything with my last post yesterday. I honestly don't think that you as the reader owe the author any kind of special consideration when they screw up. I actually put books down unfinished with great regularity. I do do a lot of failure analysis on the stuff I read, but that's because I want to learn how to screw up in my own unique ways rather than copying somebody else's blunder.

Andi, since we're all trying out different ways of getting you to post stuff for us, how about this one:

Would you please link a shot of one of the pups being unbearably cute on the couch? I would very much appreciate it.

The new hire in Laura's department has requested a puppy and a couch for her office, and since it's kind of small and the University frowns on dogs in the classroom, we wanted to get as close as we reasonably could.

Lisa, Paul hi, (waves).

For those who come later:

Everybody, halloooo!

Beth, hope you survived the move.

Kimber, I'll drop the Armadillo Con stuff in the mail on Monday. I'd have done it sooner but life got very distracting for a bit.

Nancy P said...

Smirk. Now I have three new Andif photos.

Lisa,I'd like to be beamed up for just the next two days to a cooler climate. . .and then I think of you in Texas. I think I mentioned it was 107 in Ft. Worth the day my son moved in last week?

Paul, it will be great if you can come to meetings some time. Btw, my new "Book Dissection Group" got started off great last time, and we have a second meeting this coming Sat. We'll be dissecting Sue Grafton's first, A Is for Alibi, and concentrating on plot.

Nancy P said...

Kelly, I KNOW!!! I heard all those ways of doing it and my brain burped, too, and inside the burp was a big fat NO, CAN'T. We truly have our own ways of doing the impossible.

Kelly, lol to your -couch request. Hey, maybe I'll put up a photo of a clean house and then not have to actually do it today.

Anonymous said...

I love reading how writers go about their craft. I think it helps me be a better reader as I better understand the art of crafting a novel.

Kelly, I didn't think you were being snippy, and I truly did appreciate your explanation. Thank you.

Lisa, walking in nature is a spiritual experience for me also. That's why I enjoy Andif's pix so very much!

Andif, merci beaucoup. Today's bonus photo is another beauty!

Hi, Nancy, Andif, Lisa, Paul and Kelly! Have a great day!

AndiF said...

I forgot to mention earlier that I unreservedly recommend N.M. Kelby's "Theater of the Stars".

Kelly, there's no way I can resist that request.

This couch picture has just the right symoblism for somebody starting a new job. [LINK]

And if there's not room for a dog and a couch, how about a dog and a chair? [LINK]

Nancy if you count this week's Monday Picture Post and tomorrow's upcoming one, you should absolutely buried in pictures.

Lisa, the death ray from outer space is one of my favorite photo themes -- I've got dozens of 'em.

Hi paul and anon.

Nancy P said...

G'morning, Anon. Yes, the readers in the crowd seemed to enjoy the discussion a lot, too. It helped that these were really witty people, so there was mucho laughingo.

Afterwards, N.M.Kelby. . .Nicole. . .did a talk/reading/signing for her new book and there was free barbeque! One of her fans, the nicest guy, had a bbq lunch catered for everybody who showed up. He also furnished soft drinks, and the bookstore contributed beer. Nicole got an excellent turn-out. :)

Has anybody here ever had pickled peanuts? There was a bowl of them at the bbq. The peanuts inside are soft!

Nancy P said...

Dog Symbolizing Starting New Job, lol, Andi.

Nicole read from a couple of her books and they sound wonderful. I'm eager to read her. Great dialogue, colorful characters, great observations, etc. She said she used to be a stand-up comic, so her presentation skills are terrific. Quite entertaining.

Anonymous said...

There's an abstract of the article in the New Yorker that reminds me of Nancy's vertical sentences explanation. I'll try to remember to look for the entire article the next time I'm at the library. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/28/080728fa_fact_lehrer

The author of that article edits an interesting magazine called SEED.
http://www.seedmagazine.com/

Just thought it was interesting.

Nancy P said...

Thanks for that, Anon.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. I love being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Thank you for providing a forum that allows that to happen.

Sounds like a great lunch. Pickled peanuts? I've never heard of them. Were they good?

I hope Beth is taking the day off and is out on the boat.

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks, Andi.

You're welcome, Anon.

Nancy, yah, writers are weird.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Fascinating--and it's so true that every writer is different--yeah, duh, but I forget that sometimes.