The Craft: Plot, Plot, Plot

Lately, all I’ve been thinking about is plot. That’s right, that little thing that makes a big difference in your story. And like anything we obsess over it’s been invading my subconscious starting with my dreams.

Can’t get Plot out of my head…

So, there I was a couple of nights ago, just enjoying my sleep, minding my own business when I had this dream, which I jotted down as soon as I woke up:

Suddenly, I was reading pulp fiction. A big, long book—400 pages or more. Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Kresley Cole or something like that…I read and read and read, faster and faster. I understood where the plot was going, where the characters were headed, how the conflict was moving ahead…I was looking down on the words from above.

Suddenly, I turned the next page and realized it was the end of the chapter.  The author wrapped it all up perfectly. The tension reached a climax and—bam! That last sentence was dynamite. It propelled everything forward, but put in that last bit of mystery and fricking INTRODUCED a new, unanswered question.

“Damn! I thought! This guy/girl is good.” I put in my bookmark and thought—I can’t wait for tomorrow night when I can pick this up again and FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. That guy/girl is a CRAFTY author.

And that was it. That was all. But it was enough. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do subconsciously when I write. My conscious brain is too overloaded with dialogue, scene-setting, action, etc., etc, etc., when I’m actually writing to worry much about plot. But that (from the dream above) is exactly what I’m aiming at. So now, the subconscious sleeping Darius and the subconscious awake (and writing) Darius are in synch. United and working on the same problem: How to build tension slowly, all while turning up the heat bit by bit. It’s something I’ve screwed up massively in the past and I really want to get this right this time.

It’s great place to be with the writing for now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Until next time…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

Note to Self: Don’t Think Too Much

You ever have one of those problems you just can’t solve? A riddle you just can’t work out?

Here’s a tip: stop thinking about it and do something physical to get your mind off it. Go for a walk, take a run or hit the treadmill.

Where the best ideas come from?

I’m suggesting this from experience. I’ve been thinking off and on about a flash fiction piece I want to write. I’ve really, really been struggling over what the title should be. Things have flashed before my mind, popped in there, but each time I was dissatisfied. So, I tried to attack the problem. That didn’t work either. Nothing seemed to feel right.

So, today, there I was on the bike at the gym. Not thinking about the title, not thinking about the flash fiction piece and Bam! It just popped in there. Out of nowhere, the perfect title came to me. The title that summarizes the piece and sets the tone at the same time. It’s all you could ever want in a title. 

I kept turning the title over and over in my head as I worked out. And, when I was done with the workout, I fired up the my cell phone and tapped down the title. Done.

So, next time you’re stuck with a thorny logical problem in writing (a need for a title, a plot problem, a scientific realism issue for you SciFi  writers), do these two things:

  • Stop thinking about it.
  • Do something physical.

Often times, your problem will suddenly and violently solve itself.

A favorite song of mine was also playing at the time the title suddenly popped into my head and this may have had something to do with it as well. I’m not sure, but I’m adding that point just in case it did. And who knows? Maybe that song helped push down the conscious mind even more, allowing the great idea to emerge.


Mendeleev's_1869_periodic_tablePerhaps the most famous account of a huge breakthrough that came while its creator  WAS NOT thinking about anything—in fact, wasn’t even conscious—is Dmitry Mendeleev‘s dream about the periodic table.

Having reached the highest level of nervous exhaustion, he was compelled to lie down for a while, and fell asleep at once. “I saw a table, where the elements were arranged in perfect order. I woke up and put it down at once on a piece of paper. Only later I revised one point.”

Apparently, there is some dispute as to whether this was true or something that Mendeleev made up. The book, The Elements: A Very Short Introduction by Philip Ball, also has an account of the dream. I highly recommend the book for that scene and as a good book overall.

I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth about that historical incident. We basically have only Mendeleev’s word to go on, so you can believe him or not. But with my latest experience, I have to say the unconscious can be a great help in solving the seemingly insoluble. Also, certain resonances between my experience (albeit on a much smaller stage) and Mendeleev’s—such as struggling day after day with a problem and then finally unplugging the conscious mind and having an answer that “just popped in there”…gives weight to his story. 

“It just popped in there.”


PS: This week at work we had training which included a course called “Creativity and Innovation.” Oh, the irony hung thick. A creator sitting through a course on creativity…if they only knew! Anyway, the instructor asked the students how they came across good ideas in their everyday life. The top two answers were:

1. At the gym.

2. While sleeping.

Other answers included ‘running’ or other unrelated physical activities. I think the underlying theme is that you have to give your conscious mind a break, let the problem fall into the subconscious either by taking a nap or exercising—and let your subconscious take a whack at it. And according to the instructor, you should keep a notepad or cellphone handy to jot down your idea. I couldn’t agree more. There have been times when I’ve got a particularly strong idea and literally walked off the gym floor, opened my locker and grabbed by phone and wrote an idea down in my notes App. I almost always have my phone with me and I’m ready to capture any idea that comes up anytime. 

One final data point: I had been troubled by the main character for a long piece I’ve been thinking about for some time now. Earlier this week, I woke up extra early for a medical appointment (we’re talking 5 a.m.). I was sitting on the couch, munching my cereal like a zombie and suddenly I had it: that character’s main motivation, the thing that made him tick, that drove all his actions. It was perfect. Well, earlier today, I inputted that into my notes for the novel. Another anecdote that supports Mendeleev’s story that sleep or dreams can suddenly solve a problem your conscious mind has struggled with for months.

In a running tally, I count the score as 1 for sleep and 1 for exercise. Both are great sources for problem-solving.

That’s all for today. Until next time, don’t forget to stop thinking, hit the gym or take a nap. And don’t forget your notepad. There’s no telling when a good idea will  pop up.