And I didn't see it. Until now. It hit me like a sledgehammer. Perhaps it was the accumulation of frustrations over not knowing what I was doing, perhaps it was just time. I don't know what it was, but I know that I won't be able to go back to how I used to write.
I used to dump an emotional mess on paper and then dig in it, sleeves rolled up, scraping out and cleaning and polishing something solid that I've stumbled upon, never knowing for sure if I should be digging deeper for more, or if it was enough to pull out what I have grasped and call it done. I used to tell myself, "Just write." And I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was what I sometimes hear is called as a discovery writer, or a pantser, doing it by the seat of my pants.
Only with time my stories have graduated from pure therapy to actual writing. Suddenly I wanted to write about a specific idea in a particular way, and I got stuck. I didn't know how to do it. Why didn't it work? What was wrong? I wanted to write about some serious themes, but simply hiding them behind symbolism, like in TUBE—hiding the theme of phallophobia that stems from sexual trauma in Olesya and, hence, her fear of the toy train engine, i.e., penis—didn't work. I needed structure, to be able to get my message across so it was heard. and didn't sound cheap or cheesy or deliberately shocking, which it is right now. By the way, I have renamed Tyubik back to TUBE: Trans-Urban Blitz-Express at Anya's suggestion, after we brainstormed over it and decided that renaming it with a Russian word is just going to wreck the original premise
Anyway, back to writing backwards and themes.
All my books are about abuse within a dysfunctional family. Of course they are. It's what I know, it's how I grew up, it's what I still battle within me. And so that's what I set out writing about, some very dark themes. Siren Suicides is about suicide; Rosehead is about alienation; Irkadura is about homelessness; The Badlings is about misfits; TUBE is about sexual trauma, as mentioned above; Janna is about parricide. I didn't pick these themes. They came to me as a form of therapy, to let go through writing. Only I wasn't aware of my themes. So after my writing mentor told me to plot Janna and I stopped writing TUBE and started looking for a theme there, I was devastated. I saw that what I wanted to get across didn't come across at all. Why?
BECAUSE I WROTE IT BACKWARDS.
Instead of thinking of a theme first and then hanging the novel on it like on a skeleton, I tried to grow the bones inside the glop of flesh and skin that my mind disgorged over the course of 4-6 weeks of nearly delirious writing sessions. I had so much extraneous junk left over after trying to clean up the theme in TUBE that I became exhausted and wanted to call the book done. But it wasn't done. None of my books are really done. Ideally, they should all be rewritten. Of course, I'm not going to do it. They represent me as I was at the time I wrote them, and they should stay this way. But starting with TUBE things will be different.
At the moment I have finished the plot summary for Janna, which will consist of 7 plots (imagine!) and have yet to scrub it again and write a timeline and scrub it again, before it's ready for writing. To aid my process I have started scouring the Internet and various books in search of plotting formulas, to develop my own. I have narrowed my formula down to one word, from which the whole book can grow. I'm still refining it and will share with you what I end up with in the coming posts. I will also dissect classics like Crime and Punishment for you according to this new template, to show you my take on it.
Best formulas I've read/seen so far:
- Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald—Brian's book is hard to find for sale as the publisher went out of business, but you can get it at the library, or you can read Brian's blog posts of which many are actual chapters from Invisible Ink.
- The Seven-Point System by Dan Wells—It's based on the hero's journey, about which I'm going to read a book by Christopher Vogler, and it's the clearest method I've seen that explains how to start plotting from the end.
- Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster—suggested to me by my writing mentor, this book is hard to read if you haven't read the classics discussed there, but it gives the best definition of a plot, where a plot is a series of events where every event is caused by the previous one.
That's it so far. I have a ton more books on my list. If you know of any blogs or books that helped you, please tell me about them. I'd love to saturate myself with as much knowledge about plotting as I possibly can. Stay tuned for my plotting formula.