Thursday, September 02, 2010


Patrick found out he has a new job, beginning in October; and he is so relaxed that he can't wake up this morning. Which is why I'm writing so much.

Our trip to the Black Hills is off. We have taken very few trips, even short day trips, since we both got laid off, and I am feeling trapped. So I want to go out and wander around today. I could go by myself, but I'd prefer to go by car, rather than bus.

Anyway, I am blogging while I wait for him to wake up.

I have problems with plots, since I think they are mostly artificial. Most lives don't have satisfactory plots, though there are chains of cause and effect, and we can watch character develop and manifest itself.

However, a lot of life seems accidental and pointless. We try to give it meaning by drawing conclusions about it, based on our belief systems. "She never should have married him." "See where hard work gets you?" "Talk about hard luck!" "She got what she deserved." "No one deserves that."

A novel or long short story needs some kind of skeleton, just as a large organism needs a supporting structure. That structure is a plot. In science fiction, which has a bias toward action, it is an action line.

(There are alternative structures. Italo Calvino's wonderful Imaginary Cities is a book of descriptions of imaginary cities. If there is an action line, I have never noticed it. But if I did a close analysis, I am sure I would find themes, ideas, recurrences, which give the book a shape.)

But let's return to the kind of stories I write, which have science fictional action lines...

The question is, is the plot arbitrary -- simply stuck in to provide load bearing support, or a way to get from A to B, or does it serve the meaning of the story? Should it serve the meaning of the story?

I plot more than I used to, but I still write a fair number of stories that begin with an opening scene or opening line, some images, a situation or idea. I like the process of finding out where the story is going and what it is about. Wandering takes me to some interesting places.

There are good arguments for plotting ahead. It's hard to sell an unfinished novel without a synopsis. I can write more rapidly, if I know what happens next and where I am going. My fourth novel, A Woman of the Iron People, took thirteen years to write, since I got stuck in the middle and didn't know where to go next. So I put it aside for a decade. The time was not entirely wasted. I wrote another novel in this period. But it's hard to have a successful science fiction writing career, if you write slowly and publish erratically. It can be done. But making a living at writing sf usually requires (as far as I can tell) a certain level of production. The usual rule used to be a novel a year. I don't know if the rule has changed.

I suspect most science fiction writers use a combination of plotting ahead and intuition


Blogger delagar said...

Good news about Patrick's job!

I read in somewhere in some writer's book once about plotting a quotation something like this (a great sourcing job, I know!): Plotting a novel is like making a long car trip in a driving snow storm. You can only see a few yards ahead of the car; but you can make the whole trip that way.

12:09 PM  

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