I’ve been going on here for a bit about plotting and having a structure for my novel and figuring out what happens, technically, at various points in a scene. And I think sometimes I may sound like I’m looking for a quick fix for something that is just a long process.
That’s not really it.
Martha Alderson, author of Blockbuster Plots and The Plot Whisperer probably says it best, although I’m paraphrasing here: We need a bucket for the inspiration to flow into. (Okay, she probably didn’t end her sentence with a preposition!)
I think I need a sturdier bucket than some other people do.
When I write, I have an image in my head–not a visual, but a sort of flavor–about how I want this book to feel. With my first book, a mystery, I knew I wanted light and funny, and I wanted some good action–arguments, sneaking around, a good chase scene. (Oh, I had fun writing that chase scene!). I know what all those things feel like when I read, and I think I hold that feeling out somewhere in front of me, as a goal to reach. I’m not trying, obviously, to copy the voice or writing of another author, but I know when pacing–for example–feels right on. I know what it’s like to read a book where the character layering is perfect–not too heavy, not too flat. And I want to achieve those things in my own writing.
What I don’t always (often?!) know is the how of that achievement. I do, however, believe there are techniques–ways of structuring a sentence, a paragraph, a scene–that are part of that how. I know, because it’s what I do when I critique–make suggestions about how to tighten a sentence, how to layer movement into dialogue, how to trim words that slow down action. I know it, too, because when I sit down and analyze a book, really look at what the author’s doing, I can see their buckets. I don’t know if they actually went out and built their buckets–if they picked and chose the right metal, a cool handle, welded everything up themselves–or if they are so good they basically waved their magic writing wand and just made the bucket appear.
I just know I’m pretty much out here cutting the metal, rolling it up and putting in rivets (rivets?), somehow getting a nice solid bottom into it, and making sure that handle doesn’t come off when I fill that bucket and pick it up.
Luckily, as I do the work, I can feel the inspiration bubbling. I get ideas that I send myself in an email (hey, it’s a long way from the
couch workshop to the computer!), and I start to see the layout of the book. I start to know what has to happen when, who needs to make it happen, and where I’ll need to be rearranging plot points and character arcs. For me, the bucket is a necessity. And I have to believe that, if I do the work, someday that bucket will look a lot like this.