What I’ve learned about plot (so far)

I haven’t been shy about lamenting my problems with plot while on this blog. It’s the thing that’s plagued me since I started with the book. I just couldn’t find a fitting ending and then when I did and gave it to my writers group and my writing friend Katherine, all their feedback was about the plot in some way or another. Clearly this was an area to work on.

I knew that to work on the plot of my novel I was going to have to change a significant portion of it, which was hard for me. So much of my novel was a part of me. The manuscript was doused in memories from college with quirky little asides and winks at the reader. I loved my story and what it represented to me because it was a beacon in a stormy time of my life.

But I had to let it go.

Knowing that plot was my Achilles’ Heel, I signed up for a class in which it would be the sole focus at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. There, for four weeks I took myself down to the grotto to join Michael Catlin and my fellow classmates for Plotting the Plotted Plot. If that’s not the best name for a class, then I don’t know what is.

The fact that I bid goodbye to my original manuscript was good because Michael pushed me to make definite decisions. That’s what plotting is all about: the definite. In my first class my instruction asked me how my book ends and my response was “uhhhh” and then he told me to figure it out. “But I’m not sure!” I cried. He told me he didn’t care. I needed to commit to something. I could always change it later.

Michael helped me figure out what I was doing wrong when it came to the plot. Basically my head was up in the clouds. I could tell you what the ending signified, but I couldn’t tell you what actually happened and that was a backwards way to do things. Plot needs to exist on earth. It needs to be events that happen to characters.

Characters also drive the plot, and it turns out I knew some of my characters better than other ones. Again, Michael forced me to be fearless in making decisions. I shouldn’t be afraid to make a female character to bitchy things. I shouldn’t be afraid to make my characters wrong, misguided, or, in other words, just plain human.

Once I was forced to know where my characters ended up, and since I already knew where they would begin, filling in the spaces became easier. And, per Micheal’s suggestion (so far he hadn’t lead me astray!) I bought the sticky post-it notes and wrote each scene on one note and ordered them. The different colors represented different characters narrating the story. This was I was able to tell if too much was going on in one scene and I could rearrange things so that the plot has rhythm and flows and doesn’t feel rushed or slow.

plot

Michael is a screenwriter, and I appreciated getting his knowledge on the subject because he looks at it with a different lens. He got me to embrace the fearlessness I knew was always a part of writing, but had avoiding because of my own personal fears.

The plot is basically done. It needs some fine tuning before the calendar turns and I cut myself off from civilization to write my book. It’s just another draft, but this time, with a little more direction.

Hope you are all well, readers, and enjoying my favorite season. Until next time, I’m out.

Book Math: ‘Love Actually’+jazz music+Philadelphia=’2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas’

As an English teacher and as a writer, I have little use for math. It’s not my favorite subject, and I don’t come across it much. If I do, there’s usually a tool to do it for me. When I recently read ‘2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas’ (which is a wonderful name for a jazz night club, by the way) by Marie-Helene Bertino, I was floored by the seemingly perfect package. When I thought about it longer, it occurred to me that Bertino had a big pot and she added elements of jazz music, my favorite British rom-com of all time, ‘Love Actually,’ and the backdrop of a famous east coast city to make this lovely, smooth book.

Let’s break down how Bertino did this.

‘Love Actually’

It was the feel-good film that started the trend of stories of interconnectedness. It came out at a seemingly perfect time, including a touching monologue about love and 9/11 and had Hugh Grant dancing. No wonder it’s considered a classic now.

Like the film, ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ has an endearing child who recently lost a mother and has musical aspirations. Around her float a solar system of characters she either connects directly or indirectly. No matter the degrees of separation, everyone has something in common—they yearn for something in their lives, whether it’d be to fulfill a dream or to fulfill the void of loneliness left by love gone wrong.

Of course, just like at ‘Love Actually’s Christmas program, the characters all eventually collide and it puts a smile on your face.

Jazz Music

Music is a big part of Madeleine’s life. It’s the thing she thinks about every day, as well as the thing that rules the memories of her recently deceased mother. The titular club is a jazz club. Even Bertino’s prose is like a jazz piece, full of smooth twists and turns, stuffed with rhythm and delight.

Philadelphia

I’ve been to the City of Brotherly Love before, but when you’re a tourist you see the parts of the city that everyone else usually sees. Bertino had such a unique view on a big city that it made the place feel small and intimate (almost as if we were sitting in a jazz club). Even the snowy weather didn’t deter from a well-woven love for her hometown. And it’s here, and only here, that this book could exist. The story wouldn’t work without the city, without it’s cast of characters, and without the love for jazz. It hits all the notes, goes on all the runs, and proves a wonderful, one-day read.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars 

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

August Book Haul!

image-2August is over and we’re officially transitioning into fall! I was pretty well behaved and only got four books for myself. This, of course, is not counting all the children’s books I got for friends having babies or for my library in my classroom. 

I know, right? I have a big heart. :-p

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers- I have tried to read this book several times and now I’ll finally get to since my book club picked it for our August/September read! 

“2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas” by Marie-Helene Berline- the book I got this month from Blogging for Books!

“Blankets” by Craig Thompson- I bought it for my graphic novels feature and I heard excellent things. 

“Land of Love and Drowning” by Tiphanie Yanique- The second Riot Read from Book Riot!

That’s all for now! Until later this week, I’m out.