Last week, I was writing. But I wasn’t what people call writing writing, I was organizing. I did as much of the Snowflake Method as I felt useful, which was the one-sentence blurb, the one-paragraph summary, the character descriptions, and the four-page synopsis, even though I already knew how the story should go, from start to finish. But this time, with actual time available to work, I wanted to try something different, to pay more deliberate attention to plots and subplots, instead of adding things in as I thought of them and then figuring out how to wind everything up in a mad converging mob scene at the end the way I did with my other books.
My first published novel was written seat-of-the-pants, and so was the second, and though my plots had flaws you could drive a pack of beagles through, the style and the characters made up for the lack. So it didn’t matter, right? No, it did matter. Though some of my favorite books are nailed together with fiber-board, custard, and galvanized steel when it comes to plot, if I want to tell a story, it should at least have good bones.
The bones can be pretty basic, mind you. I have taught eleven-year-olds to write a story using a plot diagram, and they were surprisingly decent. There’s a nice article on Narrative First called “Four Acts, Not Three,” which suggests that the first act is preservation, the second inaction, the third reaction, and the fourth taking action. Of course, that article is based on “Jaws,” which means that like Save the Cat, it’s premised on the idea that popular blockbuster movies are the Pinnacle of Art.
But to wrangle my long chain of scenes into a story, I had to corral them into three or four acts, and to do that, I had to figure out a lot more about my book than I wanted to. And then I had enough organization pieces to make me completely bewildered.
Bewilderment. It’s a very good start. Organizing doesn’t make things simpler, as anyone knows who has gone through a basement or a closet, or created a budget. It makes things richer and stranger, and means you suddenly realize how much more you have to do.