Plot, Plotter, Plotted

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What is the plot of a novel? According to the Macquarie Concise Dictionary the word Plot means:

  1. A secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, esp. a hostile unlawful, or evil purpose. (oooh)
  2. The plan, scheme, or main story of a play, novel, poem, or the like. (I like no.1 better)

The plot is the synopsis you send to the publisher, it’s the blurb on the back of the book that makes you spend your hard earned cash. So, how do you create an award winning, unique plot? If you research the subject you will find countless theories and analogies on the number of possible plot themes from “The seven basic plots”, “Twenty Master plots” and of course the famous “The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations”.

Are these lists any use to the writer? or do they interfere with the creative process and develop fiction devoid of imagination. I believe they have a place in the writing process. For example, my writing starts with an inspiration, an idea, I then develop the characters that can move this idea along and get the story to its conclusion. I’ll start with the beginning and/or end and then flesh out the ups and down of the middle. If inspiration isn’t coming easily there are many exercises writers use to get a basic plot going, but if the task ahead is Herculean and you are a prolific Trollopian writer a list of themes can be a godsend. I have a series, which centres on the same characters, and at times I look to this list for the spark to get a new theme started.

In the interest in serving my fellow writer I have included the 36 plot themes here. These themes were included in the above mentioned book in the 19th century, by French writer Georges Polti, then translated to English in 1916, but the list is credited to Goethe, who credits them to Gozzi from the mid 1700’s.

 

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Vengeance of a crime
  4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of kinsmen
  15. Murderous adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal imprudence
  18. Involuntary crimes of love
  19. Slaying of a kinsmen unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an ideal
  21. Self-sacrifice for kindred
  22. All sacrificed for a passion
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
  24. Rivalry of superior and inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of love
  27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
  28. Obstacles to love
  29. An enemy loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a god
  32. Mistaken jealousy
  33. Erroneous judgment
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a lost one
  36. Loss of loved ones

If the dreaded writers block is firmly wedged, I hope this list will be the jackhammer of inspiration –Happy writing.

 

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Five books all writers should own

 

Every writer needs his arsenal of writing weaponry. After the obvious hardware such as pen, paper, computer, (duh!)the most useful purchase is a selection of helpful books. You’ve bought the dictionary and thesaurus (I hope), and if you’re a fantasy writer you may have bought a Lexicon of Myths and Fairytales or a crime writer may have bought a book on criminal investigation procedures, but what other books can help the aspiring writer. I’ve listed my top five and maybe some of you can share books or websites you’ve found helpful.

1.Elements of Style – William Strunk and E.B White

One piece of advice I remember from my studies of journalism at university was never leave home without this book.It is, by far, the best book written on grammar. Every journalist has it in their briefcase/ backpack because it contains wonderful little grammatical reminders that may have slipped our minds. (Unfortunately, the older I get, the more my mind slips)

2. On Writing – Stephen King 

I’m sure most writers have stumbled upon this book. Stephen King’s advice is straight up, no fancy pants talk. He just tells it like it is. I found this book to be practical and inspiring. When I’m feeling out of my depths I like to pick it up and have a flick, I always find something motivational. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

 

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

 “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

 “Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”

 

  1. The Australian Writer’s marketplace

When I graduated from University this was my first purchase. It’s a compendium for writers listing details for submission and contact details for agents, magazines and newspapers, competitions and events, organisations, writers’ services, scripts and courses. My copy was heavily dog-eared, and I purchased many revised editions. This is centred on Australia, but a website that contains a fabulous array of publishing opportunities, for mainly the USA, is: http://www.everywritersresource.com/lists.html

 

  1. The Writing Book –Kate Grenville

This is a practical guide, using exercises, to get the writer started and heading in the right direction. It contains practical advice on character development, plotting, writing dialogue. I found Grenville’s book to be the best in this genre, but I also like Holly Lisle’s online courses “How to Think Sideways”

 

  1. If I Tell you I’ll Have to Kill you – Edited By Ian Robotham

This book is a recent addition to my collection and I’ve just finished reading it, so I thought I’d add it to the list. It is a collection of discussions from some of Australia’s best crime writers. Each writer explains, their writing process and the ins and outs of crime writing and how they came to be a writer. It is interesting (and often humorous) to read the various ways that writers go about their work, some are plotters and some are ‘go with the flow’ writers. This is a good read for all, not just those interested in the crime genre.

 

 

What’s in a name?

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I was thinking about pen names the other day, as I about to embark on a new project and wondered whether I should use one of my pen names. I have a little cache of names I use when writing for newspapers, my reason being that I don’t want my fiction work associated with my journalistic work. My choice of names are pretty boring, I’m not doing the star checking into a hotel thing and saying I’m Katniss Everdeen or Mr. Darcy, I’m just initialising, middle name etc. Many famous writers have used Pseudonyms or pen names for many reasons.

The most annoying is for sexist or gender bias reasons.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, were first published as Currier, Ellis and Acton Bell, when the publishers finally met their writers they were shocked to see they were women. Louisa May Alcott, before writing Little Women, published stories under the name A M Barnard. We may excuse this by saying it was Victorian times, but as many are aware Joanne Rowling was asked to asexualize her name as the publishers believed a book about a boy wizard wouldn’t appeal to it’s audience if they knew it was written by a women. J.K Rowling also later went on to write The Cuckoos Calling as Robert Galbraith. Rowling states her reason being to “go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre to work without hype or expectation”

Some writers want to simplify their names.

Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski.

Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Mark Twain born Samuel Longhorne Clemens.

Some writers want to distance themselves from previous works.

Agatha Christie, being a successful suspense writer, used the pseudonym Mary Westcott to write 6 romance novels. In reverse Nora Roberts, the successful romance novelist wrote under the name JD Robb for her suspense novel series. The Booker Prize winners Julian Barnes and John Banville wrote crime /thriller novels under the names Dan Kavanagh and Benjamin Black.

The two, which I find the most amusing, are Benjamin Franklin who wrote for a newspaper under the name of Mrs. Silence Dogood. –He must have had a sense of humour. The second is Theodor Geisel; he was the editor of his universities newspaper until caught with alcohol during prohibition. To continue writing he invented a pseudonym. He took his middle name Seuss and to annoy his father, who wanted him to be a doctor, he added the title, hence the birth of Dr. Seuss.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle, who published early works under the name of Boz?

Is the beginning the end?

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The start of a novel can make or break a book for me. It has to grab my attention with the very first line. As everyone today, I am too time poor to hang around hoping the book will get better. Am I too harsh? If an author has not put everything into their opening sentence then where is the respect to the reader? But here lies the problem, what makes a good first sentence? Every reader has different taste and I know what I like and if the writing is good,  I’ll stick around and give the book a fighting chance.

I recently attended a talk by the author Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith discussed the importance of a great opening line. He then delighted us with one of his favourites from The Tower of Trebizond by Rose Maccauly.

“Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

Has the reader curious. No?

My favourite is a little more subdued, from the master himself, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Whenever I read this I wonder whether Dickens sweated over every word, rearranging, rewriting, putting in a comma and then removing it again or was he hit by inspiration and it flowed in one sitting. Here it is, for your pleasure.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair

My son wanted to add his favourite, it’s the opening line of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”

What is your favourite opening sentence?

A book is a book, or is it?

Boy with book

“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own”.
-William Hazlitt

There was one book in my childhood, which shone brighter than all the others it was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read this book over and over. My mother was the school librarian, and she would exclaim ‘again?’ when I’d place the book on her desk on library day. My mother probably thought my recurrent borrowing was because the library was very small, (actually almost non-existent – one wall of fiction) or because I did not own any books myself. The reason was that this book spoke to me like no other had before it. I believe that there is at least one book in a child’s life, which has such a profound impact that it stays with them for life. I can picture a generation of “Harry Potter” fans nodding their heads at this statement.
Mary Lennox, The Secret Garden’s protagonist, was with me when I was sad, happy or lost in a daydream. I suspect a little part of her creeps into my lead characters in every story I write. I believe we are drawn to someone we identify with or someone who embraces the qualities we wish we had. Mary was stubborn, and I’ve been called that once or twice, okay, I’ve been called that a lot, but she was also brave, tough and adventurous, all qualities I admired.
Let me know what book/character shaped your childhood.
“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow”- The Secret Garden

 

Libraries

Sicily Library

Confession – I have an addiction to libraries. In my wallet, amongst the Boost Juice and Gloria Jeans loyalty cards, sits my many library cards. Like inching out the notches on a belt, my wallet needs more room, maybe a separate wallet just for them.

 Over the years I’ve had many fine library moments, running around London’s library was pure joy, Sydney University library, had my face pasted with a smile, like the joker, for the entire day. Recently I visited my local library after it had major renovations, and I declared I’d found my utopia. I also have fond memories of visiting the Lands Title’s office and feeling like Alice in Wonderland as I struggled to open the huge record books. The large tomes are the size of a house; well a moped at least – seriously! I still have a world of libraries to conquer. I may start with the one pictured; it’s the Anscient Ursino of rare books in Sicily, Italy, or we could search for the lost books/library of Alexandria. Does anyone want to join me?