Tag Archives: Plot

Literary Fiction – Are You Still Awake?

Just returned from my writing retreat at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

The first panel (How Plot Works) discussed why literary fiction bores readers. Who wants to spend all that time in a character’s head if nothing’s going to happen? Say what?! Maybe they have a point.

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So the panel chatted about how to keep readers turning the pages:

  • Christina Meldrum, a former lawyer, creates tension through structure. She builds the first half of a story bell curve where the clues get more important to the story the closer she gets to the top. Something life-changing then happens at the apex.
  • Christian Kiefer does not outline or have any idea about what’s going to happen in his stories. But a writer can’t expect the reader to care more about the MC’s life than the MC does, so he does make sure his characters are on fire for something. It’s even better if there are multiple fires to complicate the story.
  • Janet Fitch said “you’ve gotta tie the girl to the tracks.” Don’t play the reader out so much that they lose interest. In scene, show character traits and then put pressure on those traits. The MC must let go of one or more traits while acquiring others to make a necessary life change.
  • Michael Jaime-Becerra uses positive tension (information that is doled out to the reader logically) instead of negative tension (information that is withheld from the reader unfairly). “The Swimmer” by John Cheever is an example of brilliantly withheld information.
  • Fitch added that suspense is fair, surprise is a trick. Build suspense.
  • Meldrum observed that the power of perspective allows the writer to give limited information. Humans are fallible, so the narrator can’t know everything, especially about themselves.

They finished by discussing magic: how endings must be both inevitable and surprising. Sadly, writers can’t force that Eureka!” So keep your butt in the chair, keep plottin’ away, and run with it when inspiration strikes. Oh, and don’t let your readers fall asleep.

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Christina Meldrum is the author of Amaryllis in Blueberry and Madapple.

Christian Kiefer is the author of The Infinite Tides.

Janet Fitch is the author of Paint It Black and White Oleander.

Michael Jaime-Becerra is the author of This Time Tomorrow and Every Night is Ladies’ Night.

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Thoughtful Readers/Reviewers

I’ve been reading Fiction Fan’s book review blog for quite some time, but a recent post piqued my curiosity about why she found a particular novel wanting. For those only interested in writing “literary fiction,” I believe the discussion here is instructive for all writers despite the genre.

I asked in my comment:

Since it didn’t work this time (sounds like the subplots detracted from the tension), I’m curious to hear about when you think it does work for a book to reveal the “what” or “who” and then discover the “why” or “how” throughout the rest? Would it have worked without the subplots/length? Are there other flaws (you mentioned implausibility, but sometimes a little of that can be overlooked if the rest of the book receive high marks, yes?) that kept it from being engrossing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I’m struggling with this issue in my own work.

Her response, as I should have expected, was insightful: Continue reading

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Painting Over the Rotten Spots in Your Story

House_Early DaysSo in 1977—when the house I’m squatting in was built—I was a geeky kid who wanted to join the circus. I spent hours walking acrobat style across the narrow tailgate section of my dad’s Dodge pick-up truck. I didn’t pay attention to what my dad had to do to keep our little house from falling down—I had more of a big tent in mind.

After spending a few quality hours painting the underneath part of my ancient deck, I think living in a tent might be easier. Part of the deck is built over a gigantic tree trunk—read: big spiders. Part stretches over a tall berm—leaving just enough room for a back-breaking hunker. I got so much paint in my hair I had to get it cut off.

I’m thinking a nice Coleman four-sleeper with zip-up windows. Continue reading

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Filed under Howling at the moon