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Author Topic: Writing Tripod  (Read 2366 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Writing Tripod
« on: October 15, 2006, 01:14:12 PM »

 Date:         Saturday, January 02, 1999 04:15 AM

BookMarc #8
The Tripod

It takes three things, like the legs of a tripod, for a story, family journal, article, or novel to stand. Plot. Characterization. Writing. Yes, we can talk about other things like dialogue and description, but I think these slip under more than one heading. Good dialogue not only comes under good writing, but is also a feature of good characterization. Description not only is good writing, it part of a good plot, letting us both see the picture and feel the mood. Hopefully, we'll point out these things by example as we travel along.

Plot. Characterization. Writing. If we forget about any one of these tripod legs, the whole thing comes crumbling down. We might put more emphasis on one, such as a literary work might be read for the pure joy of the way words are strung together, but if we eliminate plot, it goes nowhere and we have no story. If we drop characterization, we can have a good story line with good writing about characters nobody cares about. Your readership will suffer. Good plot and good characters, but poor writing and people will not plow through it.

In these days of shrinking budgets, it is important for us to give publishers a story that refuses to be put down. We can not take a good-enough attitude in anything. Big names get away with slop. Not us. If we are strong in one category, we have to study and work on the other two to bring them in balance.

Most agents and editors I've talked to prefer a character driven story to a plot driven. In fact, they say, the plot driven story better be damn good. What they are saying is a fantastic plot might occasionally get by with cardboard characters, and yes, some genres pay less attention to characters, but how much better if we people this fantastic plot with rounded characters that readers identify with and care about? On the other hand, a character driven story will suffer if it goes nowhere. If it doesn't have conflict and suspense, you don't have a story. So you need them both. Then there's the writing.

Writing is rewriting, folks. I know it's gotten to be a cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true. In RUSSIA HOUSE John Le Carre says "Spying is waiting." Well, here in BookMarc writing is rewriting. That's why first drafts are garbage. It's just getting words and ideas down. Something I've called composing rather than dignify it with anything else. Writing is rewriting. It is sparse, clear, conveys mood and sight and feel and taste and sound, using no more words than are absolutely necessary, squeezing out the fat to leave a rich, simmering broth. It is the soup that binds the flavors of plot and characterization as surely as if they were chicken and garlic.

When we have rewritten the last word of our story for the last time, it must be the absolute best we can make it in every way. Anything that stumbles or doesn't ring true will have to be gone over again and again until it stands, or we can count on a rejection. Which we'll probably get away.

I'm telling you all this because I wish I had known it twenty-five years ago. Have I said this before? I believe I had good plots, it has always been my strong suit, but I had no idea about characterization. I had no one to sit me down and point out why my hero was a stick figure, or how to make my sentences flow. That's what we're trying to do on this writing journey. If it works, we'll all learn something. Not only in writing novels and short stories, but for and essays and articles.

However, keep in mind what I said early on. We can point out all the things that go into a good story, but no one can teach you how to write that story. I can show you some dance steps, but the casual weekend ballroomer will never be able to star in a ballet w/o practicing again and again and again and again. Good writing is rewriting again and again and again, until plot and characterization come into sharp focus.

In the next BookMarc we'll take up plot.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch, BookMarc February 13, 1998

Date:    Friday, January 08, 1999 08:38 PM

Judith & Bob,
No big words of wisdom. I would suggest you start writing from what have. I assume when you say you are having trouble with plot you are talking about how to outline it? And if that is so, start writing with what you have. If you are actually in the writing, first draft, stage, just keep on. Try to look forward. Go back and look at some past chapters. Maybe even do some rewriting, but not a lot. The idea is to do anything to keep you story moving. Even iF you think the scene you are working on is garbage, keep on. You never know how it will fit into the over all program.
And, Bob, I never write scenes ahead. I might throw up bits of them is it comes to me in a flash and I donít want to loose it, but, for me, by holding off on the scenes I want to write makes me stick with the toughies in the middle. That works for me.
Hope this helps.

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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