Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Big Plot Drill

Been slacking in the post department lately. So, I decided to just post about what I’m doing right now. I recently read Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell which is easily the best book on  plot that I’ve read thus far. I love creating characters and cultures, writing dialogue, and setting up conflict. Plotting isn’t my favorite part of writing and books on the subject usually make my eyes glaze over.

James Scott Bell’s approach to the subject is different. The book reads less like a college text and more like the transcript of a lecture from your favorite teacher. You know the one who made you feel smart and capable. She/he broke everything down into manageable chunks that you easily understood. The teacher gave you tips and systems that you still use. And somehow, she/he did it all while keeping you entertained. Priceless, right? I borrowed the book from the library, but it’s one that I’ll purchase for my reference shelf.

To get a deeper understanding of plotting, James Scott Bell recommends a plot drill. It involves reading six books,of the style you like to write, then analyzing the plots scene by scene. Bell admits that it’s hella work, but swears its worth it. *Folds arms and raises an eyebrow.* I’m choosing to take his word for it. I’m sure this drill will be highly beneficial. If not, I can always twitter-stalk him with my complaints.

Since, I write both fantasy and paranormal romance, I’m taking three books from each category to analyze.

For paranormal romance-

  • A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson
  • Edge of Hunger by Rhyannon Byrd
For fantasy-
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
  • Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

I chose two of my favorite authors (Hamilton and Sanderson), three that I really respect (Butcher,Davidson,McKillip) and one that I’ve never read before (Byrd). Half the reading is done. Enjoying the focus this drill requires. Looking forward to what I’ll learn from it.

What’s your experience? Have you done this drill or some other that really helped your writing?

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Your Focus Needs More Focus

The lovely Amy Sundberg wrote a great blog on the role desperation can play in undermining your goals. It really stuck with me. There’s no doubt that we want what we want, and we want it NOW. Ahhhh…. the lure of instant gratification, also known as “The Dream Killer.” While it is important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, you can’t let that vision blind you to all else.

Desperation is the dark side of ambition. It’s the side that scares small children and little old ladies.  It’s the side that brings out ugly characteristics like crazy and lazy. Crazy and lazy are desperation’s hellhounds, sent to slow or halt progress altogether.

When crazy bites, a toxin seeps into your blood stream. You become a puppet with crazy holding your strings. You’ll do pretty much anything to get what you want despite the consequences. Hello impaired judgement! Crazy will make you call someone at two-minute intervals until the person answers. Crazy will make you eat cabbage soup for a week to lose five pounds before your high school reunion. Crazy will make you pay obscene amounts of money for headshots from a kiosk at the mall. Enough said.

Lazy, on the other hand, is more of a trickster. Lazy will convince you that you are a prodigy just waiting to be discovered. It says, “You don’t need voice lessons. Audition for American Idol. Again.” Lazy implores you to cut corners. “Send out those stories. They don’t need revision.” Lazy makes you feel like there’s not enough time to get it all done. “Haven’t worked out in years?  It doesn’t mater. Take that three-hour kickboxing class every day this week. You’ll see results faster. No pain. No gain.”

So what do you do when crazy and lazy are nipping at your heels?

That’s easy enough. Ignore the sycophants. Take out the big boss. Desperation. If you are feeling overwhelmed by desperation. It can only mean one thing …

“YOUR FOCUS NEEDS MORE FOCUS.”

In the 2010 version of The Karate Kid, the student, Dre, sees  a woman who charms a snake. She stands on a ledge, strikes a fearsome pose, then uses only her inner reserve and the hypnotic rocking of her head back and forth to keep the snake’s attention. The snake mimics her every move.  So does Dre. He’s fascinated by what he sees.

During his next lesson, Dre tells his mentor that he wants to do what the woman did. The mentor, Mr. Han, tells him to focus on the lesson at hand. Dre only wants to learn what he saw and continues to babble about it. It doesn’t matter that he’s just beginning to learn Kung Fu and that move requires mastery. It doesn’t matter that he has a tournament to prepare for or risk daily beatdowns by the neighborhood bullies. Dre is focused—on the wrong thing.

That’s what can happen to us all.  Somewhere along the journey, you become captivated by something bright and shiny. You forget where you were going or how to get there. Maybe you decided to use someone else’s map and you can’t make it out. The point is, you have  to regroup.

In the movie, Mr. Han does something drastic to get Dre’s attention (see pic above). He guides Dre gently back to the present moment and the day’s lesson. Han utters that brilliant line, “Your focus needs more focus.” Then he continues with the drills Dre needs to become proficient at Kung Fu and to meet the challenges ahead of him.

If you don’t have someone to keep you grounded, then YOU have to be your own Mr. Han. Slow down. Give yourself a good shake if need be. Break major goals down to smaller, manageable ones. Bring your focus back to what you can do right now. Don’t think too far ahead. Celebrate the little successes and don’t forget to have fun. It’s hard to feel desperate when you’re having a good time.