A Third Way of Plotting

MY PRINCIPLE PURPOSE in operating this blog is to write about the creative process. What moves and excites me, both in the foreground — what people see standing out in the middle of the room — and in the intimate detail — what they get sitting on the benches and staring for hours.

Last week, I was rebuked somewhat by my peers. Not by readers, mind you, at least, few folks admitted to having read the book. In designing the cover for The High T Shebang, I had several things in mind. (High School friend, Bozo, asserted that he had though a graphic designer had gone crazy with no purpose in mind. I pointed out to him that there is always a meaning.)

First, of course, was to make of the cover art a good marketing piece for the book. It has to send several signals, both subtle and not-so- about genre, and the story. Without, it should be said, giving the story away. No spoilers, please.

Second, it has to be, in and of itself, attractive. Not to merely avoid driving the potential buyer away in droves, but to excite a demi-erotic desire to own this work as art. To excite cupidity in the viewer.

And, Third, I sought to provide for the reader a window into the story, or else a mirror on it, to which the reader might refer whilst reading the book, and puzzle out the meaning of images and symbols. Sort of like album covers on old vinyl records in the ’60s.

Nobody bought that.

Several times a day, this writer, that one, or another will address the method of choice for capturing the story as narrative. Some are what’s called outliners. These lay out in advance the entirety of the story — to whatever level of detail. I used to call a similar process fractal reiteration. That is, wandering through the story from start to finish, adding more levels and layers of detail in each pass through the thing, until one has the complete whole. I conceptualized FI in a sort of platonic ideal, wherein one would complete a pass with utter discipline and attention to the fullness of the protocol and keep on reiterating until the story was complete at all levels with no gaps in the fabric, and all threads complete in their perfection.

Others fly by the seat of their pants — colloquially called pantsers. These start with an idea — a snapshot, a scene, a face, a line of dialog, a bit of movement — and build out from that. Stories built this way can just grow “like Topsy,” but need not must in all ways and cases. This method is seen by many as being “more organic,” inasmuch as the story seems to grow naturally — from the writer’s perspective, although a tight and squared-away story can grow in any wise from any seed.

The last couple of years, I have worked what seems to me to be a third way. I start with a notion of a complete story. The current work in progress, for example carries, in its founding concept, the seeds of its plot line and the needful developments of character, setting, and plot for it to run to its conceptual conclusion.

It is hard for me to keep so complex an image in my mind — in RAM, so to speak — so I have to create a sort of virtual memory, a sort of a plot outline, written down, to serve as a guide to me as I work through the requisite scenes of the story. So I get an idea for a line of story to follow and I write down a page or two of paragraphs about each development. A collection of log lines, so to speak, for the scenes in this story arc. As the fleshing-out bits occur to me and grow to fullness in my mind, I write them down, each in the text part where it belongs, until a scene, a chapter, a book, and a volume are all complete.

It seems to speak to the difficulties I face in maintaining continuity at the same time as forward progress. But now, I am tired, and it’s a school night, so I’m off to bed. Have a great Wednesday.

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