Yay! We have a winner!!! Marian, choose one of the books listed below. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks to all for your comments.
Thanks so much for taking time during your Independence Weekend celebration to drop by Novel Matters. You deserve a special treat. If you comment today, I'll enter you in a drawing for one of the four books I mentioned on Wednesday in our roundtable discussion, your choice--Home, Mudbound, Half Broke Horses, or The Book Thief. Yes, it will have been gently read, by me, but books shared among friends are the best.
So, here we are for our book chat of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. We're focusing on the chapter, "Plot Treatment" today. Remember, reading the chapter isn't a prerequisite for participation. Yammer away with me!
Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Just to summarize:
Lamott spent two-plus years writing a beautiful story where nothing happens. Her editor refuses the manuscript, and, after a period of depondency, she gathers herself to try again. She rearranges pages, paragraphs, and scenes on the floor of her apartment. Satisfied that she has a string of story pearls, she travels from San Francisco to New York to discover she'd only managed to make the story prettier. The story brimmed with witty writing, stunning imagery, and well-developed characters doing absolutely nothing.
You've read novels like that. You wait and wait for the story to start, all the while marveling at the clever use of language and the fresh description. Within pages of the end, if you get that far, you're still wondering when the story will begin, which means there are wants and conflict to care about. Evidently, Lamott is lucky to have an editor who pushes her to "build" a story with sound internal logic before actually publishing it.
Here's a bit of wisdom from Lamott's story: Lamott went back to her editor, head in hands, and asked for help. He tells her to write a plot treatment for her story, which turns out to be a chapter-by-chapter super-charged synopsis. (Side note: A synopsis is a great way to discover holes, gaping or otherwise, in your plot.)
After the plot treatment, she says, "The book moved along like the alphabet, like a vivid and continuous dream."
I'm such a Girl Scout--be prepared and all that. Lamott's process of writing a complete manuscript, three times, sounds like pure torture to me. Perhaps you see her experience as a glorious, organic process you hope to emulate. Go for it. Absolutely, go for it.
Not me. I do tons of thinking about structure and plot before I start a novel--and I'm doing more now than ever. That doesn't mean I don't tweak, delete, and augment along the way, that the muse doesn't whisper in my ear, that I don't hit a wall at 30,000 words. I do, I do. I've been asked by editors to shore up a sagging middle and strengthen an ending, but, egads, rewrite a manuscript three times? Lamott has persistence. Perhaps that is the true wisdom of this chapter--listen to your mentor and keep trying until you get it right.
But let's go back to plot and structure. (I'm reading two books on the topic right now: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.) Notice Lamott didn't discuss the how-to of plot and structure in this chapter, only that the struggle for plot and structure is worth the prize. I expected her to recommend a plot treatment or other such tool, but she didn't. I find that curious, especially since she experienced success once she'd had a plan.
I'm learning that plot and structure is so much more than deciding to write by the seat of your pants or to outline every scene and sneeze. Plot and structure is the logic, the motivations, the reader's satisfaction, the author's world view...sadly, it's too big of a topic to develop here. Sorry.
I hope what you'll take from this chapter of Lamott's book is that plot and structure make beautiful writing entertaining. It's worth all the agony and kvetching. Whether you work a plan or rewrite to strengthen plot and structure, it's hard work. No way around it.
Do you consider plot and structure before you start writing? Where have you learned the most about plot and structure? Do you have a story like Lamott? Have you done complete rewrites to bolster plot and structure? What kept you sane? Motivated? Do you outline? Write a synopsis? A plot treatment? Do you believe plot and structure can happen organically as you write? I'm so curious about this topic. Tell me everything!