You know what I was thinking? Every time I talk about plotting recently I talk about how I plotted MB beforehand and it was much easier to write, and I lament that I didn’t plot out AUT and it was such a nightmare to write. But you know what? I’m starting to suspect that if I’d plotted AUT out entirely before I started it, I would never have started it. It would’ve been too daunting. It’s a complex book, and I’m just now beginning to understand exactly how complex. If I knew from the beginning, I would’ve been too paralyzed by my perceived inability to do any of the stuff I ended up doing in AUT to begin.
I realized this because that is exactly how I feel about GR, the new book I’ve been “working on” since I finished MB in August. And by “working on” I mean “staring at a blank page and willing the plot to come to me.” There’s a lot I want to accomplish in GR, and I don’t seem to have a clue how to do it. It has so many characters, and it’s the first book I’m writing in shifting third person close POV, and I intend to give it a really huge plot (“intend” meaning I haven’t actually figured out all the particulars of said plot yet). It just seems like I bit off more than I can chew with this one.
What I normally try to do when I’m stuck somewhere is try something different. Working on my synopsis in a Word document was getting me nowhere, so I went to my trusty GR notebook and began working by hand. I added another page to May’s character manifesto, and then I went to a blank page and wrote STRUCTURE in big bold letters.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading (and re-reading) Diana Peterfreund’s essay about the four-act structure. I decided that GR is going to have three parts: a short Part I (Act I), a long Part II (Acts II & III), and a short Part III (Act IV). So technically it’s going to have a three-act structure, but actually in my head it will be four acts because I need that dividing line between the crisis and when the consequences of the crisis (as Diana puts it) come into effect. So in my plotting I am thinking of it in four Acts, and then I’ll just lump the two middle ones together into one Part.
When I was writing in my notebook, I told myself that I didn’t have to know how everything was going to happen in each Part, I just had to create a wishlist of things I wanted to happen, that I would figure out the details later. Thus, I got a lot farther in the plotting than I was getting on the computer, when I tried to have the hows and the whys and the whats altogether. For Part I, I wrote out a list of all the supporting characters I needed to introduce in the first few pages. There are 10, not counting the main character. Blurgh. That’s a lot of peeps.
There’s sort of a fine line you have to walk here. I mean, on the one hand you don’t want to just throw a bunch of names at people and expect them to retain that information, because they won’t and then they’ll be annoyed that they have to flip back fifty pages or whatever to figure out who is who. I was reading a YA book recently where I felt like this was the case–lots of supporting characters, none of whom I could really distinguish from the others. On the other hand, you don’t want to give too much information and overwhelm the reader–I mean, even if all the characters get their own page, that still 10 pages of character information in this case, and 10 pages is a large chunk of text to not have any plot movement. And I’m all about plot movement.
So I told myself, each character gets a paragraph, which is a good exercise, I think. It makes it necessary for the writer to isolate the few characteristics, images, and behaviors that make a person unique and interesting, so that the description has punch and the character lives. You don’t have to know every character’s favorite flavor of ice cream (this is why I prefer character manifestos to character interviews or surveys, incidentally, because knowing a bunch of random information about your character is not the same thing as talking to them about who they are and what they care about and what they want, etc.), you need to know A. what makes them different from everybody else and B. what connects them to everybody else (when you’re introducing a bunch of people at once like this).
So last night I churned out 8 or so pages of introductions. This is the most I’ve written in GR for months, and it proved to me that it is possible to write this book. GR is stumping me at every turn, but I can see now that there is a way around or through every problem. In this case, I needed to establish my characters, because for a long time I’ve only had names and one-sentence descriptions for them. Now five of them are real people. That’s pretty awesome. I’ve been so afraid of the scope of the project that I kept forgetting how books are written–one word, one sentence, one page at a time.