Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vitamin A and How to Plot a Novel

So now that you're taking your Vitamin D, I thought I should tell you not to neglect your Vitamin A or K2.

These three fat soluble vitamins work together to...

Fuck it. I'm sick of writing about nutrition.

Every now and then, I go back through some of the old books on writing I have lying around and try to refocus my brain on the basics.

Since I'm 38 and a published novelist, reading books like "Fiction First Aid" or "Writing Screenplays that Sell" is a tad embarrassing. Even worse is reading through them in a coffee house like I am now. Honestly, I'd rather be caught reading porn.

But it's worth it. For example, Michael Hauge's advice on how to write a screenplay in one easy lesson:

Enable a sympathetic character to overcome a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieve a compelling desire.

Obviously, this is the "Hollywood Happy Ending" version (after all, the book is called "Writing Screenplays that SELL"). But if you want the more literary (i.e., box office flop) unhappy ending, all you have to do is add "fail to" in front of "achieve."

Yes this is unbelievably basic stuff, but it's this very basic stuff that writers continually fuck up. That I continually fuck up.

Hauge goes on to explain that any story idea can be expressed in a single sentence:

It is a story about a ______ who __________.

Obvious stuff, right? Well, in my experience, MOST aspiring novelists can't formulate that sentence--or at least not without using a run-on.


  1. Plotting is a bitch. Joyce, one of (maybe singularly) the most famous of modernist 20th c. writers couldn't do it. That's why Dubliners is one of his best and why during and after Finnegans Wake he thought he should return to the short-vignette style. Having an arena you want to work in is so easy. Having the characters you want doesn't seem so tough to me. Having the goddamned obstacles and weaving all of them in and out is a conundrum invariably symphonic in proportions.

  2. @Kappler

    Whenever I write a short story I tend to immediately think in the "It's about a (blank) who (blanks)." It's when I get deep into a novel that I lose my way.

    Joyce got it in Dubliner's (i.e., when writing short stories), got sloppy in Ulysses, and lost it completely in Finnegan's Wake.

    I wonder if "weaving" all "the goddamned obstacles" is what distracts writers and makes them lose track of the actual story.

    Actually, in my case, I don't wonder. I know.

  3. @Gigi

    Yep, working on a crime novel.

    "And out of work barista is forced to take on Portland's vegan underworld."

    It's been going well lately, which is why--ahem--the blog posts have slowed a tad...

  4. Wow, I read when you posted that line earlier and I thought you were just being funny. That's fabulous. I love that that's truly the idea of your new novel. Not to say it won't have a far wider audience, because it will, but Portland is going to eat that up! No pun intended. [Well, I noticed the pun and could have changed it, but I didn't.]


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