Spring Forward – Day 5

5:06 pm – Candle’s out, and so another Spring Forward day comes to a close. I learned how to shape an opening today;  how to select language to render what I want rendered. Words are fine tools, but it’s easy to handle them clumsily. I like to begin a story as close to the end as possible, following that old dictum, and so my openings tend to remain my openings even after I’ve finished the manuscript. I may revise an opening to improve its language and sharpen what it conveys but rarely will it change outright to something different taken from somewhere else in the manuscript. I know when I’ve got the right opening and that’s the opening that sticks. If it’s not the right opening, I dump it and begin again. That’s what works for me. Today I wrote the right opening for Silk River.

Until I’ve got the right opening, it’s difficult for me to write further into the story; I don’t feel its flow. While I don’t write in a linear fashion, the story floats through my mind, parts of it rising over other parts, and those are the parts I write, and eventually it all weaves together, but those parts flow from the beginning–the right beginning.

The workshops are teaching me techniques to get the flow going and keep it going through to the end of the story. Today’s last workshop focused on endings. I analyzed the endings of 3 books I’d enjoyed and discovered only one of them left me completely satisfied. They all ended properly, logically, in line with what had gone before, but in one a pedophile got away with his crime; and in the other, everybody died–they were the antagonists–but the writer had spent the entire novel currying the reader’s sympathy for the antagonists, and the two most sympathetic died along with their companions. I could see why–but still, I was not happy, not satisfied. That’s probably why the writer included an epilogue–to give the reader a satisfactory ending so you can close the book and not feel like somebody kicked you.

On an additional note,  J. Madison Davis in the Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot says about ambiguous endings, “The reader isn’t there to write your novel. The reader is there to read your novel.” Novelists who think it’s–oh I don’t know, avant garde–to give a reader multiple endings fall down on the job in my opinion. I don’t want multiple endings–I’m not reading to choose the damn ending; I want the ending that fits, the ending that satisfies because while life is often inconclusive, I read, people read, I daresay, because they want the satisfaction of a good, honest ending–even if the story’s conclusion is inconclusive, if the inconclusion fits, one ending is enough! Yeah–I’m still irritated, lo, these many years later, by the end of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Got busy with the work yesterday, forgot to post last night. One thing has come clear to me as I go through this workshop, not understanding how to develop conflict is one reason why plotting is hard for me. The key to developing conflict is developing the story’s people, knowing their problems, and where these issue intersect, disagree, clash, and out of it all comes the character-driven plot.

Yesterday I completed the plot skeleton of The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, (published in 1915, set in pre-WW I United Kingdom) and it was such a golden day, temp in the 80s, blue skies, a storm of sunshine,  I packed up my workshop stuff, grabbed Neo, and went down to sit under a tree at Shoreline Village and work.

One particular thing I noticed in The Thirty-Nine Steps was how every time his protagonist got into a bind, another character showed up to rescue him. This happened through 8 of the 10 chapters. It works well in the story, and it’s a good book, but I can’t imagine him getting away with that today. Then again…

Finally began the new scene for Three Heartbeats; it’s an addition to round out the story, which I finished months ago, and then realized I needed one more scene. Almost done with the new scene.

Wrote a lot of story notes and did the plot outline for Silk River, not finished with it yet but I’ve got a very good start. Even the morning shadows are sun-bright already, today promises to be another golden day.


Breakfast & Journal  – 7:00 am

8:30 am – Inspirational Reading – Specificity, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron

Inspirational Podcast – Go to http://writersonwriting.blogspot.com (Barbara DeMarco-Barrett), choose any podcast you want.

Writing is a paradoxical activity. All the methods contradict one another and all the methods complement one another. –Susan McBride Els, INTO THE DEEP

Workshop 10 – Making the Leap from Plot to Story – 9:30 an – 11:30 am

Always write as if the action of your novel were taking place before your eyes on a brightly lit stage.. –John Braine, WRITING A NOVEL

How to Open Your Story – Part 1 – AmericanWriters.com Podcast

Selected Reading: The Beginning, Chapter 5, Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot, J. Madison Davis

Select several novels that you’ve read and enjoyed. Open to the first paragraphs and answer the following questions:

Does the author begin in the middle of a scene?

Is the primary conflict of the book present?

If so, in what way is it present?

Is the mood of the novel suggested in this paragraph?

If so, how is it suggested?

In what way does the author set the scene?

Look at your manuscript. Answer the same questions. Revise your first paragraph. See how much you can imply in just two sentences or a hundred words.

Lunch –  11:30 on – 1:00 pm

Workshop 11 – Making the Leap from Plot to Story – Part 2 – 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

How to Open Your Story – Part 2 – AmericanWriters.com Podcast (Runtime: 40:08)

Continue with the assignment from Workshop 10. Look at another of your manuscripts and answer the same questions listed in Workshop 10.

Break  – 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm

Workshop 12 – Endings – 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

The writer is one who, emnbarking upon a task, does not know what to do. — Donald Barthelme

Podcast – Choose one from Pen on Fire Speaker Series at penonfire.blogspot.com or Writers on Writing at writersonwriting.blogspot.com

Selected Reading: The Ending, Chapter 7, Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot, J. Madison Davis

Select 3 novels you enjoyed. What was the central conflict? Read the final scene of these three novels. What was the precise sentence that solved the central conflict? Consider how much material follows the resolution. Consider the final sentence that ends the novel. Does it resonate with all that has gone before? Considering the story, was it a satisfactory ending? An unsatisfactory ending?



2 thoughts on “Spring Forward – Day 5

  1. This is very good and I like the points you listed for the openings. When I’m instructing novel writing the very first class assignment is to outline the plot, introduce setting and character and hint at the conflict. So I think you are really on the right track here. I will copy down these points you have listed here and will add them to my own notes.

    The novel I am writing now (Shadow of the Lion) has a very complicated plot with many sub plots so it has been a tangled web to weave.
    I chose to write it in multiple point of view because of the sub plots. Of course now I’m at the end, many of the sub plots have been resolved but the major plot issues are now about to converge leading to the climax.

    I did a lot of character development along the way, perhaps too much, so some of that is what will likely be cut when I do the final edits. But I had to ‘know’ my characters well and really got to feel they were personal acquaintences and friends. That is very important, as you pointed out in your notes, because it then makes the plot/sub plots come together.

  2. Would you believe I only saw The 39 Steps movie very recently? Loved it!

    Sounds like you’re getting loads out of the workshops!

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