Tuesday, March 17, 2015

13 Week Novel—Week 3 Activities: Plots & Subplots

I've got several things on my mind this week. I know I'm late, and it's not from all the issues swimming around in my little human brain. The Tucson Festival of Books wore me out, and I think it added to the ideas lazily backstroking into my consciousness from my subconscious mind. 

I know you've been keeping up on working through the next 2500 words, though. 

And I've been thinking.

First, about the long novel process. (How unlikely.) I was at the gigantic Tucson Festival of Books. I only got to one panel. I couldn't get into two others because they were so crowded. Ridiculous. 
The size of this book festival is difficult to fathom. Image: Lars Hammar
Anyway, in the panel I actually attended, it was encouraging to hear one author say he wrote what he thought was a novel in six weeks, then he spent three years actually rewriting and shaping it into a novel. The other novelist on the panel was floored. “It took me six years to write my last novel!” he said. (Or something like that.) I like being reminded that it takes a while to struggle through this.

Next, about the difference between story and plot. I've been using the term story up until now, since we haven't defined plot. But here are a couple readings that attempt to differentiate the two.

Third, about how plots look visually. There are several approaches to plotting: the 3 act structure, the 8 point arc, the 5 act structure, the 6 act structure, beats, not plotting at all. But if you look at all these, you'll find that they are all essentially the same. So why is it so difficult? To get a thorough understanding plotting, I'm bringing this up:
It can feel a little dense at times, but it really is enlightening—if you are serious about writing.

Plus, a few images of plot lines:

Last, as I think about my story, I think subplots are not secondary—they are integral to plot. I tend to think they need to critically affect the main plot. But I wonder if that's just my story.

A few readings on subplots:
I'm not hot on using the word add when discussing subplots, but hey, these are some of the things I've found on subplots.

Images of subplots:
  • When I try to map out subplots with the main plot, they often wind up looking like this. I thought I'd clean it all up by using a spreadsheet. Beware of this. I apparently deleted mine last week.
  • That's okay, though. I'm hoping to create something more visual this time. Like this.
  • Or one of these. Just something that puts all these pieces together in a linear fashion. That's sort of my problem. Translating a messy mind into something linear. Maybe I'll be more creative in my next novel and avoid lines altogether. But this one needs them.

So here's what I have planned for this week:

1. Create a visual of the novel you read over the last two weeks. (Does that feel like a long time ago? It does to me.) Without looking at the book again this time, determine what that book's main plot and its subplots are. Then create a visual of it. It may be a line diagram or a flow chart, whatever kind of visual works for you. Merge the plot and subplots onto one visual. If you want to use little green army men on the table with post-its, go for it.
As long as the army men don't wind up like this. Image: Eric Jackson
Whatever you do, think of how the subplots interact with the main plot. Do their plotpoints simply fill in gaps between the plotpoints of the main plot? Do they sometimes collide? How do the subplots affect the plot and the story? Or does the plot affect the subplots? Make this apparent in your visual. 

2. Determine what the preliminary plot and subplots are for your novel. If the 30 minute outline you did last week helped to develop a basic storyline for you, use that to map out your main plot, including the plot points. Then I am going to ask you to do the same thing for your subplots and merge them like you did with the book in the above activity. Your plotlines need not be structured in the same way as that book. In fact, the plotlines probably will affect each other differently. It is a different story, after all.

Remember that this is also a preliminary plotline and it may change. It helps you to keep in mind what your story is about and it may guide you through when you get stuck. 

At the same time, when you depend on it to get you through, the story and your characters can become unnatural and staid. Or the story may become less exciting to you. Or the characters may even refuse to follow it. 

The beauty of having this sort of plan is that when you feel like the plot is strangling you or you are suffocating it, you let got of that plot. Just ditch it. It can be totally freeing and your story might just begin rolling out naturally again. You might come back to the plan later, or you might re-map it. Whatever it needs.

3. Write your 2500 words. It's totally manageable. No excuses. 

Then come back on Sunday (I promise) for next week's activities.

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  1. OMG! Festival of books! Heaven on earth!

    1. I've never seen a book festival so big! Or so many panels to choose from! At least I was able to contact the authors at some of the panels I missed and talk with them later. phew! Did you get to some good presentations, Lux?