Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Plotting and 'Plotting'

Why I Can't stick to an Outline
with assorted notes on Character...

70,000 words (and likely to be 40-50,000 more...)

I really have no idea how long my word count is going to be. None. I can make guesses based on my past history, but that's about it. No real idea how this thing ends, either. I know how I'd like it to end, but that's no gaurantee.

Some writers make a plot outline before hand. Lots of them even stick to it. John Ramsey Miller started as a response to these weeks of untangling messes. Fair enough. James Ellroy's plots are famous for being nearly the length of the finished book. Me, not so much.

Today I'm thinking about character-driven versus situation-driven fiction. I don't mean plotted or not-plotted, but rather, is it the setup or the actors who drive the story?

Gerald's Game started with pure situation (what if a bondage game went wrong?). Barry Eisler's Rain books and Richard Stark's Porter series both started with the mental image of a guy walking. The writers had to find out who that guy was, and where the heck he was going.

For me, it's a little of both.

I've got an escaped killer, the cop hunting him and the people he's hunting while he's out. Situation? I guess. Character? That too. I started with a sense of who this killer was (and blog readers have seen that change as I write him), a better sense of who the cop is (from the last book) and almost no sense at all of who the hell these people are this guy keeps killing.

But now I'm at the point where I understand who they are, and why he's doing it. And the victims have turned out to be nastier and more resourceful than I would have thought as well. I can't stand cardboard characters or red shirts. Part of my 'psychosis' is that I'm always looking at each player and asking "why?" I also hate it when cannon-fodder acts stupid.

Even the smallest players have to have their reasons in my work. Sometimes those reasons make them larger, sometimes those reasons keep them small, and sometimes their reasons and reasonable actions march them right out of the story.

It's easier to think of stories as found objects. The metaphor's useful, and doesn't make my head hurt.


cs harris said...

Maybe what we need to ask ourselves is, What would THIS character do in THIS situation? Steve and I sometimes squabble over this in our plotting. He'll want a character to do something and I'll say, No he wouldn't do that. If it's a guy thing, though, I'll usually shut up and go with Steve's instinct (as per Charles's blog today).

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm struggling a lot with the character thing right now, trying to get to know the folks who are appearing in my book. I realized after my writing group that my main female character didn't have a clear reason for being where she was and doing what she was doing. I'd brought her in because "I" needed her there, but she didn't quite fit. Now that I've rethought her a bit I can see why she's there and it's not what I was thinking.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

hey steve, a bit off subject, but what's your favorite pelecanos book?

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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