Tag Archives | plot

Are You a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Dominant Writer?

ElliottBayBooks

A Stack 'O Writing Books

I learned a different way of looking at my writing this weekend, a way that I think will help inform how I plan and plot a novel. (One of the things I love best about writing is that there's always something new to learn.  It's impossible to be bored by it.) I'm thinking this thing will help you, too, so let's discuss.  But first, some background.

This past weekend, I went to Seattle with my daughter.  We took the train up and back (the best way to travel), stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, and reconnected with an old friend and met her new family.  (One of the most adorable two-year-olds on the planet, second only to my own granddaughter.)

One of the best times we had was Saturday afternoon, when we hung out at the new (to us) location of Elliott Bay Books.  The bookstore is dotted with large tables at which you can while away the afternoon.  Which is exactly what we did. It felt like the height of luxury to spend a couple of hours doing nothing but looking at books.  My daughter perused books from the design section, and I pulled out stack after stack of titles from the writing section.  I read through many of them,  took notes from some, and ended up buying two:

Naming the World, and other exercises for the creative writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  I remember being at AWP years ago right when this book came out. It is comprised of brief essays and accompanying writing exercises from a wide variety of writers.  I'm always looking for exercises for myself and my students–I'm not sure why I haven't bought this one earlier.  It is excellent.  (I especially love the section of Daily Warm-ups at the back.)

PlotWhispererThe Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.  I've read her blog, but for some reason shied away from the book, which has been out a few years.  I'm only a short way in, but the book is excellent.  And the thing that has grabbed my attention is the distinction she makes between left-brain dominant writers and right-brain dominant writers.  To wit:

The left-brained writer thinks in language more often than images and is quite comfortable with action.  He might also be analytical and detail-oriented.  Alderson says that if you crave action and "spew out dialogue at will" you are a left-brained writer.

The right-brained writer thinks in pictures rather than language and likely starts his writing developing characters or emotional moments in the story.  He takes a more intuitive approach.  If you fall in love with your characters and love to ponder theme and meaning, you are more right-brain oriented.

Raise your hand if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions above.  Me! Choose me!  I'm a right-brained writer through and through.  I can't think of a novel or story I've written that didn't start with a character, and because of this I also have a few abandoned stories littering my computer, because I didn't know how to develop action for the character.

It doesn't matter which one you are, but it helps to figure that out from the get-go.  Because just as I've struggled with action in my stories, the left-brained writer will struggle with getting character emotion and detail into her work.  And if you know that going in, you'll know where your weaknesses lie and you can figure out how to correct them.

You'll know that if your left brain tends to be more dominant, you'll need to learn to focus on character, imagery, and emotion.  Conversely, if your right brain rules the roost, you'll have to focus on plot and goal and structure.  (There are ways to do this without freaking yourself out.)

Alderson has an interesting offer on her website.  (I'm in no way affiliated with her, just intrigued by the info she's presenting.)  It's called Writing a Story Takes You on an Epic Journey, and since it is in beta, it is really inexpensive (like $14.99, amazing). 

So that's what I learned this weekend.  Does the concept of left-brain dominant and right-brain dominant writers resonate with you?  Which are you? Do discuss in the comments.

All images are by moi.  I've been using Instagram a lot lately.  Come follow me there, why don't you?

13

Novel Writing: The Remake Your Life Plot

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I'm about three chapters into a new novel and the other day when I was making some notes on themes and events to come, the thought occurred to me that I'm writing a Remake Your Life plot.

I made that name up, but these kinds of plots are staples of women's fiction.  For various reasons, the protagonist's life falls apart, usually in unexpected ways, and then she has to go about finding a new one. 

As I made notes and pondered, a rough basic outline of this kind of story came to me and I jotted it down.  Here it is:

1.  Everything falls apart, and/or the protagonist loses everything she's held dear.

2. She has no choice but to start over again, often in a new place.

3.  There, she's a stranger in a strange land.  She has to navigate in these strange new surroundings and it is often puzzling.

4.  But slowly, she settles in.  And bit by bit things begin to go well.

5. However, there is still more to be learned.  Any lingering issues left over from the problems at the start will now rear their heads to be solved.

6. The heroine's actions come back around to haunt her, good and bad. 

7.  The choices the heroine has made in the second half of the book are now what truly count because these are the choices she has made as her new, wiser self.

8. The heroine uses these new found traits and skills to manage the final crisis.

9.  Often, but not always, she returns home triumphant.

This is also a variant, of course, on the heroine's journey.

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What did I get right?  Have you ever written a lot like this?  Guys, why aren't there more novels with plots like this for men? 

I'd love to hear your opinion.

*Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter.  In return, you'll get a free Ebook called Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board.  It will help you envision plots like the one discussed here!

**Photo of board game by Will Folsom.

25

How to Prep To Write A Novel

So, you've decided to take the plunge and write a novel.  Perhaps you might be wondering where to begin. Or if you are taking the plunge for a second or third or fourth time, maybe this time you've vowed to get organized ahead of time so you don't spend weeks going down fruitless plot paths. 

On Monday, I wrote about my own path, at times slightly tortuous, to starting another novel.  Today, I'm going to share some prep tips that have worked for me when beginning a novel.

But first, we have to do it.  We have to face the age-old debate–is it better to actually plan a novel ahead or just plunge in and allow it to reveal itself to you, the writer?  I have firm ideas about that.  Yes, it is wonderful to allow your creativity full range and just write what you feel like.  Wonderful until you realize you've written 100 pages that have nothing to do with your main storyline.  Honestly, we all need a container to put our creative into, novel writers included. You're going to do much better if you have some idea where you're going.  I'm the first to say it can be a loose idea, but you need to have an idea. 

Okay, so are you with me?  Great. Today we'll discuss the things you need in your life to write a novel, and on Friday we will talk about the things you need in your brain (and on the page) to write a novel.

Tools. First off, gather you up some tools.  Besides the obvious computer, I like to use a spiral of some sort, smallish so you can carry it with you, as a dedicated notebook for the novel.  Brilliant flashes of insight go in here, as do random notes about the topics we'll discuss below. You might also want to get a 3-ring binder, for printed manuscript pages and completed forms. And if you put things in file folders, grab a bunch of them.  Accordion files can work well also.  Oh yeah, and dictionaries.  Or a word notebook, if you have one.

The Habit of Cultivation.  Novels are long.  200-300 pages long.  That's a lot of pages to fill.  A lot of words to write.  You've got to come up with things that happen, details to make the world come alive, dialogue and thoughts for your characters.  What are you going to do when you need to describe a coffee shop and your mind goes blank?  This is when a habit of cultivating comes in handy.  Writers need to be out in the world observing, writing down their observations or committing them to memory (bad idea, if you ask me) so that there's water to draw out of the well when you need it.

Space.  My first office was a desk shoved into the corner of the bedroom.  That room has long since been converted to the family room, and sometimes I look at that corner and marvel at how I ever wrote there.  But I did.  I wrote articles for art magazines and a couple of coffee table books in that space.  Doesn't matter if you write in a closet, or a corner of the kitchen.  Makes a place for yourself.  You'll need room to store your spiral, your binder, and your file folders and more importantly, you need the psychic space that your own place provides.

Time.  When are you going to write this baby?  Are you going to get up early or stay up late? Are you going to write it at lunchtime or during coffee breaks?  When the baby is napping?  Doesn't matter when you do it, as long as you make a plan for it.  Because, otherwise, it won't happen.  Period.

Vision Board.  You can make this now or after you've done more planning of the type I'm going to discuss in the next post.  But do consider making one.  A vision board for your book can get ideas and juices running like nothing else.  Download my free Ebook on this topic in the right-hand column if you feel so inclined.

That's it for now.  Come back Friday for the last post in this series, in which we'll discuss planning for character, setting and plot.  In the meantime, what are  your essential prep tools for writing a novel?

 

 

6

Deconstructing

I'm working on the final (ha!) rewrite of my novel, coming up on part two.  I did a lot of thinking and making notes before I started this rewrite, which included many Great Ideas, and most of that affected part one.  Why?  Because it was character stuff.  I worked on figuring out how characters reacted to each other so that their throughlines were nice and straight and sturdy, not weak and floppy.  I got really clear on character motivation.  And so I breezed right through the rewriting of part one. 

Its a damned good rewrite if I do say so myself.  At one point as I was working on it I thought, this is the rewrite where I actually know what I'm doing, what I'm trying to accomplish.  The previous four (yes, four, which is really not all that many) were more of the take a deep breath and dive in variety, which just speaks once again to the value of writing as a process.  Sometimes you just gotta go with it and trust.

Now I am to part two and the hard work begins.  I didn't take many notes or have many Great Ideas for this one.  Because this is where the set up is long over and the weaving in begins.  I-yi-yi.  I-yi-yi again.  I think everything is there it just needs to be rearranged some. 

Which is where the deconstructing begins.  This morning I took index cards and went through every chapter in question, five of them, and wrote down every scene.   By this I mean every little discreet event of action, ie Emma Jean calls Riley and they argue (which could cover two pages) or Aunt Cleo and Bob arrive from Portland.  I felt I needed to do this because in the dense chapters I couldn't remember what all happened.  Plus they've been rearranged a few times already.

Committing scenes to cards really helped me get in my head what I have and where, exactly, it is.  I've deconstructed part two and committed it to sepearate little pieces, like disassembling a puzzle.  Now my plan is to throw all the cards up in the air and put them in order according to where they land.

Kidding.  My plan is to lay them out on the bed or on the floor (if the Big Scary Beast Pug and the Demon Feline will stay away from them) and play with them, like that old kid's game Memory, where you match two like cards.  Being able to see how the scenes currently flow should give me some good ideas on how to make them flow better.  The truth is, I already got a lot of ideas as to how to do this just in the process of deconstructing.  So I have high hopes for the rest of the process.

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Character or Plot Driven? and Other Between Holiday Thoughts

My screenwriting friend Marc sent me a link to an article by Lawrence Konner, writer for a gazillion projects including Planet of the Apes (!) and multiple upcoming movies that sound blockbuster-ish.   There's a lot of good bits in this article, so much so that you could take any one of Konner's pronouncements and expand into a longer article.  Remember, nearly everything he says applies to all kinds of storytelling, be it fiction, or creative non-fiction, or you latest short story.  It is helpful to study screenwriting no matter what genre you are writing in, because screenwriters focus on story.

The part of the article that I enjoyed most was his thoughts on character versus plot.  "If you try to get characters to do what the plot determines, then they're moving falsely," Konner says.  He goes on to explain that the first thing you should do is write a biography of your character because the number one thing you want to do is get your audience (or reader) involved in some way with the character.  You must know your character's background, upbringing, current status, dreams, goals and desires.  The last aspects are among the most important because a character wanting something is what will power the plot.

Go read the article, its worth a look.

In the department of other bits and pieces, here's a small round-up of recent interesting things that have crossed my desk:

Nobel Prize winner Le Clezio says that writing was actually his third choice of career.   Firsthe wanted to be an architect, but his math skills were poor.  Then he wanted to be a sailor, but his eyesight was bad.  So he became a writer.  Writing soon became an "uncontrollable impulse."  Le Clezio considers himself a storyteller above all else, and not someone who writes to espouse political views. 

Has anybody read any of his novels?  I'm intrigued by them, myself.  Read the article about him here.

Anne Wayman did a good post called Of Creativity at the beginning of the month.  She links to a couple good posts on the subject. All of them are worth checking out.

PhilosophersNotes is a really cool idea–they call it Cliff Notes for Self-Development books.  During this holiday season, you can download the top 25 titles for free–its an awesome deal.  Be sure to read the Meet the Philosopher page on the site, about Brian Johnson, the guy behind it all.  It's inspiring.

For those of you looking for freelance writing jobs, Anne Wayman lists the places she hunts for them (or just subscribe to her job listing).  Two links to Anne Wayman–clearly she's doing awesome work for writers!

And, finally, Obama's chief speechwriter is 27.  Honest.  This is a fascinating article about him and his relationship with the president-elect.

I think that clears up all the things I've been saving to post about in my Google notebook.  Now its time to return to the magnum opus I'm working on, my 2009 goals.

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