* plot

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Flynn has a number of plots boiling simultaneously, with uncertain outcomes in each. He switches among these actions, leaving every scene with a hook.
  • This is standard fare for a thriller; how will it work for my Heretic sequel?
  • What makes it a more complicated approach in a historical novel is the number of names and other information (beyond plot), which without great care can confuse and discourage the reader.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett’s purposeful ping-pong structure alternating between the characters forced him to slow down to show (in his words) “how the protagonists were reacting to each other’s moves,” and to include more enriched attention to “character, landscape and emotion.”
  • It surely worked.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Pitt asks one very short question after another, each one 2-5 words. This not only shows his investigative style, it moves the background process swiftly along.
  • Perry frequently alternates family scenes with investigative scenes, breaking the tension, showing more of what Pitt cares about

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Ernest Hemingway … I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader. Anything you know, you can eliminate. But … if you omit something because you don’t know it, there’s a hole in your story.
  • James Baldwin … the goal is to write a sentence as “clean as a bone”
  • Georges Simenon … I cut adjectives, adverbs and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You have a beautiful sentence – cut it.
  • Elie Wiesel … I reduce 900 pages to 160 … writing is more like sculpture where you remove … you eliminate in order to make the work visible … there is a difference between a book which is 200 pages from the beginning and a book of 200 pages which began as 800 pages … the pages you remove are really there – only you don’t see them

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • the central action of the story introduced by an innocuous question … “can you fellows paddle a boat?”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Scaramouche is more driven by plot than by character. It is an exciting adventure story, tracing a vow of revenge from one improbable escapade to another.
  • The pace, usually rapid, is slowed from time to time by philosophical and political ruminations on the changes occurring in France at the time of the 1789 Revolution and its immediate aftermath.
  • This transforms the story, raising its level of importance, since what the characters do impacts these epic historical events.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • having both sisters (Charlotte and Emily) take on different hidden personas was not credible for me.
  • In a “Society” where everybody knows everybody, it seems unlikely that either could get away with it, let alone both.
  • But Perry is such a good story-teller that I allowed a “suspension of belief” and did not allow my incredulity to interfere with the tension that these subterfuges produced.
    • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions.
  • This listing helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
    • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • E.L. Doctorow … as the book goes on it becomes inevitable … choices narrow … the thing picks up speed
  • Truman Capote … what I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening
  • Isak Dinesen … I start with a kind of feeling of the story I will write … then come the characters and they take over, they make the story
  • John Irving … how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? how can you introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up?
  • Norman Mailer …generally, I don’t even have a plot … my characters engage in action, and out of that action little bits of plot sometimes adhere to the narrative (I don’t believe him, he’s just shooting off his mouth)
  • John Mortimer … the plot and discipline of the crime novel save it from terrible traps of being sensitive and stream-of-consciousness and all that stuff … life is composed of plots
  • James Thurber … we’ve got all these people (in our story), now what’s going to happen … I don’t know until I start to write and find out … I don’t believe the writer should know too much of where he’s going
  • William Kennedy … if I knew at the beginning how the book was going to end, I would probably never finish … I knew Legs Diamond was going to die at the end of the book, so I killed him on page one

 The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • we never get to know what’s actually in either of Yank’s plays. O’Hara provides scant detail, probably because he never thought it through himself.
  • Yank uses the people in his life to feed the characters in his plays, which could have been very interesting, if we had been allowed to see it happening.
  • BIO NOTE: John O’Hara received high critical acclaim for his short stories, more than 200 of which appeared in The New Yorker. But it was mainly his novels, though mostly of dubious literary merit, that won him the attention of Hollywood. Their focus on ambition, class conflict, money, troubled marriages, and promiscuity was the stuff of film melodrama in mid-20th century America.
  • These plots seem trite and barren today, all surface and no depth.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • plots should not insult reader’s intelligence, no holes, characters who are real
  • create subplots that illustrate the same theme through different situations
  • every scene advances either the plot or one of the subplots (or it doesn’t belong)
  • using a piece of information from the character analysis, twist the story one more time
  • keep aware of what the reader knows or doesn’t know at each point in the story
  • work with your characters to design the plot
  • Plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in
  • the primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • Events must be organized with an emphasis on causality
  • The first event (scene) triggers the event that will immediately follow it
  • High drama results from: direct conflict between characters, discovery, revelation, personal epiphany
  • Plot must have climax, and climax itself must have a climax
  • Post climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters
  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • I always know the end in advance
  • subplots arise out of a novel’s theme, mirror the theme
  • you need to end every story you begin
  • theme – the basic truth about which you are writing. ·   you may not know the theme in advance, but it will emerge (???)
  • the writer’s object is to keep the reader reading
  • if a plot is essentially believable, it can sustain a suspension of belief
  • every story needs plot points, critical moments when events change (the plot and send it in a new direction)

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • a novel is most alive when one can trace the disasters which follow victory or the subtle turns that sometimes come from a defeat.
  • to know what you want to say is not the best condition for writing a novel.
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know: an insight into one of your more opaque characters, a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.
  • our love of plot comes from our need to find the chain of cause and effect that so often is missing in our own existence
  • I look to find my book as I go along. Plot comes last.
  • I no longer make up a master plan before I begin a novel. some of my best ideas come because I haven’t fixed my novel’s future in concrete.
  • I want to keep the feeling that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
  • I prefer a story that develops out of the writing.
  • Characters (who are alive) need to fulfill their own perverse and surprising capabilities.
  • I don’t do my research too far ahead of where I am in the novel.
  • if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect.
  • Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.
  • the artist seeks to create a spell … a feeling that he knows something deeper than his normal comprehension … a sense of oneness
  • both artists and scientists are trying to penetrate into the substance of things
  • coincidences occur … exciting us with a livid sense that there’s a superstructure about us, and in this superstructure there are the agents of a presence larger than our imagination.
  • stories bring order to the absurdity of reality.
  • In analyzing novels, consider each major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.
  • Jorge Borges has a magical ability to put plots through metamorphoses, thus posing the difficulty of comprehending reality.
  • writing a novel is creating a world, God-like, presumptuous, intoxicating, never comfortable.

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