PLIV: Plot Break!

Now for more on the DUMB STICK theory of plot-breaking…

When drafting or outlining a book, there’s this false idea that a) it’s all common sense or b) it’s purely intellectual.

The exercise of breaking plot, like Melinda Snodgrass described from her Star Trek screen-writing days, is a challenge to that. It also challenges the idea that the writer’s own ideas are sacred. But I’ll let you wrestle with that on your own…

Essentially, you start with the premise that Three-Act Structure is a working formula, and your book can use it for a little better focus.

In the breaks where we got together to play around with this, we kicked off by having the subject (willing subject, I might add) start telling us about their book. Being writers who also design worlds, create characters, think up twists, we would interrupt constantly with questions and commentary. Sometimes more one than the other.

As we tried to fit the story into a structure, sometimes problems became apparent–at least to those trying to “help”.

The main thing brought to this version of workshopping, though, was the willingness of disinterested parties to throw out stupid ideas. To claim the Stick of Dumb, and announce an idea that the actual writer might be horrified by…and then inspired, too.

Shaking loose inspiration can be hard. Having a room full of enthusiastic writers with no reason to fear YOUR failure to throw things out there can be really powerful.

PLIV Mentioned Resources

It is known, that any group of writers gathered together in the name of literature are going to end up shilling.

Not their own work, usually, but the books that have inspired them, taught them something about writing, or just are flat out good. Here’s my compilation of books mentioned during the Paradise Lost Workshop, with a couple of additions I didn’t get to mention.

Non-Fiction, on Writing:

  • Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
  • On Writing, Steven King
  • Wired for Story
  • The Ten Percent Solution

Stephanie Leary adds:

My addition:

  • Everything You Need to Know About Men You Can Learn from Dogs (a women’s only resource to character development, as far as I’m concerned)

Excellent Books:

  • The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett (screaming red herring)
  • The Nicolai Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett (an arc for all 8 books together)
  • Strong Poison & the Lord Peter Whimsey books (character voice)
  • Have Space-Suit, Will Travel – The Star Beast, Robert A. Heinlein

Stephanie Leary was talking about the artist journey in:

  • Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (also see her writing posts at ArghInk for superb lessons in craft/plotting)

My additions:

  • The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner (and sequels) for a twisty road of masterful reveals. When you get to the end, go back and read it over; it was totally fair!
  • Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch for “fistfuls of trouble” and reversals by the pint.

Screenplays, for structure and craft:

  • Casablanca
  • The King’s Speech
  • Dallas Buyer’s Club
  • The English Patient
  • Love, Actually
  • Thor (viewed as “an abusive father ruins family, creating bitter sibling rivalry”)
  • Captain America (first half, anyway)
  • Spiderman II (with Tobey Maguire)

Separately we talked about The Princess Bride and Never-Ending Story as formative movies.

I am going to update this list as others chime in with things I missed! And probably add links, once I’ve got the time to do that fiddly-bit. What did I miss, guys?

PLIV – Paradise Lost Writer’s Workshop

This weekend I learned to wield the Dumb Stick.

I am back from a long weekend in San Antonio, for a second round at Paradise Lost. It’s a workshop and writing retreat limited to alums of Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox, or members of the SF/F pro forum Codex.

Essentially, this means people who have made a step toward becoming pro in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy field. But because of the specific circles involved, there were lots of connects, via classes of students from the workshops or activity on the Codex Forum. It’s easier to get to know people with certain Venn diagram overlaps in experience…

I feel this photo successfully portrays everyone's personalities...

Themes of the weekend that developed out of the lectures and chats this time were: no one “arrives” and is set for life in publishing… but you can make your own luck by being ready. It may seem a bit mechanical to write to certain structures or even formulaic, but it’s how a professional creates a book that fundamentally works. A publishing career is a crapshoot, so let it be about the fact that you love to write.

And maybe, love to hang out with other writers and talk about the craft?

girl table selfieI hope to post a compilation of recommended books, and an overview of our exercises in “plot breaking”.

First, though, I wanted to post a little more good press for this small workshop. If you can get in, the structure is great with enough food for thought that socializing time is energized, there is free time to write…or better yet, break your book and remake it with other fantastic writer-people helping you out. This is where the Dumb Stick comes into play.

Let’s do this again next year!