Friday, August 22, 2008

Plot threads revisited

...I have no idea why I always seem to come up with dry, academic post titles. Maybe because I've been listening to last year's Michael Hague lecture, "Unifying Plot and Character Arc". The man is a genius. I don't care what his lectures are called.

*fangirl squee!!!* Michael Hague is coming to Seattle!!!!

Finally, after all these years. I get to see, and hear, Michael Hague in genuine, real-live person. Of course, it's across the water, and I have to take a ferry, and I have these totally irrational South Indian Ocean ferry sinking paranoias. I don't care that people take them everyday, it's a car, on the water, in a boat. If it wasn't for Hague and the prospect of a five hour lecture, you wouldn't get me into a fifty car remake of the sinking of the Titanic. What if we hit an iceberg or something??

The only thing that would be even better would be a lecture by Peter Dunne, but since I'd probably be the only person to show--maybe not.

I was thinking about structure, because series are very structured, and I need a good strong plot to drive my story. People say, "Series are very character driven." But the trouble with that is it's a paradox. How character driven can it be if you need a beginning middle and end? Something's got to happen. It can't be a Seinfield episode.

I stripped everything to fit in the word count, I put in forced togethernesss, external deadlines--and then, I listened to "Unifying Plot".

Wow, talk about the light clicking on. Y'know how in movies you always have to show the hero in their "normal everyday life" before the story actually gets going so the reader has some kind of yardstick to measure change? In a romance, particularly a category romance--there's no time for set-up. Normal everyday life has to be something that moves with the character. (lol--that was a light bulb moment in itself) The actual occupation of the character is their everyday normal everyday life.

It's like condensing the first ten pages of a screenplay into two sentences of character building.

My hero is named Chris. A polite label would be art recovery specialist. He's a thief. A thief on the side of the angels, out to make a quick buck, lol. I can't very well do the pivotal scene and show his motivation. It's all back story. It doesn't work as prologue, and it doesn't work as narrative. What does work is taking him, the result of all the character building--bad family, good early environment, connections in North Africa and the South China Sea and squishing it all up, doing a fast forward and throwing this guy, currently living on wits and skill, into a situation where his external motivation forces the story to start.

The way Hague explained it, it's like a multi-layered thread. Okay--so that's my interpretation of what he said. (mine is shorter) Certain things run the entire length of the thread. Chris's job. The way he rejected his family. His friend Jase, the only family he allows himself. One long strand. His everyday life.

The second strand is Amy. In certain lines, the heroine/hero doesn't change, and I credit that insight to Joshua James post on characters without arcs. Amy doesn't change. She's the long, unchanging strand in my thread. She's who she is, and while she does go through the story wanting something, she doesn't actually transform in any way.
And I think that's a key element in categories. Somebody has to change, somebody drives the plot, even if it's just minimal plot--but only one HAS to change. That was my light bulb moment, lol.

In the thread, it's all smooth until we discover what Chris needs. Then we discover it's Sulky, with glitter and metallic wrapping on nylon. That's the plot. The last strand--there's only four in a category--is Chris's character arc. I guess I'm pulling from everywhere, but this strand is a lot of everything. What Hague calls "the need" (versus "the wound", the wound is for most characters, the need is for characters that are so closed off they can't acknowledge having any kind of problem), and what Dunne would call the emotional understructure. It's where Chris meets Amy, and the love story exists. It's got knots and tangles, and glittery bits, (because Sulky is like that) and it doesn't want to co-exist with the plot strand which along runs smoothly to the end.

It's a way of looking at things--all strands point toward the end, three continue, one starts and stops, and sometimes changes color and loses a bit of the metallic coating. I guess what I'm driving at is this--the Chris thread doesn't change. The support thread does. Chris remains Chris. It's only the internals that change. The part you can't see.


Kaige said...

Hey, at least your oil's changed. RIGHT? I think an iceberg in the sound might be newsworthy enough you'd hear about it before you left for the lecture.

Interesting thoughts on the the plot threads too. I'm going to have to read it again, it's too late to properly process it all right now. :)

Unhinged said...

A randomistic comment, ala Unhingey.

I read this post late last night and dreamed about the Michael Hague lecture. I was like...THERE. And so were you and other faceless people. My ex was there, too, which really throws me.

Anyway, I remember carrying eggs Benedict into the room for all of us but the top of the eggs with sauce went bouncing all over the place and left a mess. Boy was I embarrassed.

The guy I thought was Michael Hague--a good looking guy with long blond hair--wasn't him.

I have weird dreams.


Structure? Plot threads? I think I need to take another class. Lectures are wonderful for inspiration, but I'm the type who needs to sit down and try to do a thing before I learn.

I'm looking forward to the review!

jodi said..., actually, that's next up on my to-do list for tomorrow. The first day I have a limited amount to-do. BUT, I did check my oil, and I noticed it wasn't low, but a little dark. Yes, I'm justifying myself. I'm trying to get to it. *sigh*

lol, Unhingey. Hague is a stocky older guy with frizzy sandy hair. But I sure am going to take lots of pictures, and squee, and maybe get him to sign my RWA cd with a sharpie! And I'm going to take lots of notes. I'm looking forward--not to the highly suspect icebergs in the sound--but to simply soaking in the knowledge. Wow. Five hours. So cool.

Jeanna said...

I want to read more about Chris. Great lead. Have you been finding new sweet spots (ha) in the big city?

jodi said...

lol, Jeanna--get your mind out of the cupcake batter. :)

Today is my day to go to Trophy Cupcakes. I have this desperate wish to try a hummingbird cupcake.

Jeanna said...

Watch it, Jodi, here come an army of ear ants.