Books

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It Was There All Along

The plot. A plot. To plot.
Some people are born with an innate sense of how to do this and don't think about it at all. For example in Stephen King's otherwise quite enjoyable writing book http://amzn.to/oH47BQ he says very little about plot; I believe he goes so far as to say he doesn't plot (I don't have the book here to check.) Yet he does. He writes plots that keep those pages turning and the money flowing. Every twist he takes on his way to the ending resounds with a ka-ching!

Other people need to learn how to plot. It's a point of craft that can be learned--a good answer to all those many who say MFAs are useless and writing cannot be taught. Plot can be taught; practiced; mastered. Amendment--the basics can be mastered. A great plot is a great theme is a great mind. A great mind is a combination of intelligence and self-honesty. Howevs--I would say that learning to plot is a way of developing the self and the mind because it's a way of organizing and choosing that asks for a lot of thought--deep thought. When you are in deep thought you have an opportunity to cast a glance sideways at your emotions and defenses and see what's up. I guess I'd say that self-development for an artist is different than self-development for a monk or a nun--the goal is different. The goal isn't to exfoliate and polish the inside for a God. The goal is to be realistic about what it means to be human. This is why a lot of great artists are also great jerks--one can be a bit too pleased with one's impulses. No harm in seeing oneself clearly but acting a little good.

One reason plotting is a skill to be learned is that in life we are fascinated by complexity so to shift over to simplicity is counter-intuitive to what we think writing is supposed to be about. Aren't we representing the complexity? Not exactly. We're playing off it; pointing to it; asking the reader to remember it exists--but we're working above all with a math formula--not a camera or a paintbrush.  This isn't obvious in great books because the math is hidden beneath layers of description characterization scene setting etc. And...everything the author wants to say. Ideally the math disappears for the reader and the characters come alive. But the math has to be there. The math is always there--in the most experimental books it's another formula but it's there. The math is the safe place for an author. Once it's in place the paintbrush can be brought out.

I think though that the basic shape of a plot does exist internally in the drama of how our minds and bodies work. This is why there is a universal response to the basic plot formula. It doesn't only represent the raw experience of the world; it corresponds with our interior patterns. We are living our insides all the time. Whether or not we stop to notice we know.

So learning about plot from a teacher is like learning about who we are from a shrink. There is a mirror involved--maybe not a looking glass. Let's say a reflector.
Shane Ruminating On Her Tail



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Four Hours in Philly


Grandad would never to take me to see where he grew up--too ashamed of how poor he'd been. Ironic that the heir moved there? Or predictable? It's a very very vibrant place if you are a kid who likes the life of urban exploration. Reminds me of my own youth here and there. I could have lived without being shown a few sights of heartstopping activities-- bit I approved of the caricature of a big betty with a dachshund being used as the example of model behavior.