Monday, February 21, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 3: Plot and Subplot

And then?
And then?
And then?

I don't know how to continue this conversation and keep from pulling out my hair. Plot. Have we beat this point to death? We talked about it in the Jumpstart. We came back to it at least once in the Short Story for the Editor. Yeah? And I feel like I've brought John Gardner's “Chapter &, Plotting” from The Art of Fiction more times than I can stand.
We all know that plot exists for us to understand a story, as readers, viewers, listeners and as writers. So, there we have it. We will not continue with this anymore. Plot. At this stage of the novel, guerrilla style, we're three weeks into. Three weeks, and if we don't have at least a small understanding of where the plot is heading, well, in the most easily understandable guerrilla terms: we're fucked.

Subplot? A smaller plot line that furthers our story, or a secondary plot? This warrants some discussion.
Should you have a whole cast of characters, subplots will work well for you. I always thought a gig writing soap operas would be great, for the same reason as why subplotting is great: more options, more opportunity. Imagine this, we talked about the theme of the road novel and the theme of the family history: if we have a track that plot follows, let's think about all the side stories.
Ian McEwan's Atonement can fall into this family history theme? The subplot? Well, think about the second part of the novel in which Briony follows her own track separate from the earlier and latter course of events. The second portion also gives us two smaller plots which I find very fascinating: one, the portrait of London before the blitz, and two, the British soldiers retreat to Dunkirk on the continent.

Another option along John Gardner's Fichtean curve is the notion of a mini plot, or small plot. Although Gardner suggests that there be smaller peaks within a plot, I'm suggesting a story inside a story. The best example I can come up with is Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The plot: Toru Okada looks for things like a job, a lost cat, a lost wife, meaning. As a plot of a 30 year old guy looking for stuff, well, it's not terribly interesting. Then he meets, by which we meet, some secondary characters: Malta Kano, Mr. Honda, May Karashara and Lt. Mamiya. Each of these characters have an interaction with the protagonist Mr. Okada. But each of these characters has a plot of their own that from which Mr. Okada must learn or grain something. Smaller mini plots to enhance the over all plot of the book? You bet.
Plot, subplot, small plot, cemetery plot, who cares, right? This is the novel guerrilla style. What does all that mean to us?
Two points to consider. First, you have to consider yourself trained on the craft of plot. You have been exposed to it. You have read John Gardner or others. Walter Mosley, for instance, is a great writer and great crafter of plot. His teaching on plot include the Fichtean curve. You've been exposed to this Fichtean curve. You know how plot works in the books and stories you've read because you notice it. And second, you will know if a plot works because you apply every consideration from point number one.
Now, let's think about the subplot and smaller plots. You have been working on your novel for three weeks. You must have more than one character, and you must know the direction you want to go. Now, consider a smaller story within your story. Take a secondary character and introduce them to your main character. Make this new character at once part of and not part of the overall plot. An intense exercise, no? This activity may propel your writing when you get in a rut down the road somewhere.
When I wrote Dysphoric Notions, I had two major characters and 20 or more secondary characters. All the events with secondary characters had the ebbs and flows of plotting events Gardner suggested but for me, they were merely a tool to move the major plot along.
As we continue into week four, analyze your plot. At this point, I hope you've got a direction. Does your plot have interesting cycles within it like Gardner suggests on the Fichtean Curve? And do you have subplots, or smaller plots embedded already, or the opportunity for them to be there?
Spending sometime with this now should focus your direction to come.

As always, good luck and happy writing.

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