Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Plotting, planning....

Wasn't Lisa's post on characterization interesting?  I really enjoyed reading about her process, because all of us find different approaches to the writing of our stories,  our process often evolves over time, and it's fun to hear about what works for other people.  Her post on characters also made me think about my initial steps in finding the right story idea. 
We just returned from a trip to California--a business trip for my husband, but just relaxation for me.   One of the first questions people ask when they find out that I'm a writer  is, "Where do you get your ideas?"  as if that must be the hardest part of the business.  That question came up at least a half-dozen times while we were traveling!  But believe me, ideas are everywhere--in the newspapers (I love USA Today and the new, newsy format of the Wall Street Journal!), in inadvertently overheard conversations in an airport or the chatter of a friendly cab driver--- in myriad, everyday encounters.  Out of the blue situations can make a writer start to think,  "Hmmmm..... what if...." 
A cab driver told me that he was a street child in Mexico who repeatedly ran away from every orphanage, then he grew up, eventually immigrated to the USA and became a citizen, married and had eight daughters and a son.  Could there be a story  in some aspect of his life or, the life of one of  his children?  Can you think of dramatic fictional elements that could be added to make it a page turner?
An intriguing idea is only that, until one delves deep into the goals and motivation a character might have in a given situation, and the possible internal and external conflicts that could really draw a reader into the story. And then (at least for the writer who loves plotting) comes the process of working out a plausible progression of increasingly intense scenes presenting greater and greater physical or emotional risks for the main characters as they pursue their goals. I love brainstorming all by myself, coming up with long lists of things that could happen.   Some writers like to fly into the mist and don't like to do  all of that specific planning, but either way, developing a story is an exciting adventure!
Have you ever thought of writing a story?  What would you like to write?

If you are a writer already, what would you like to write that's totally different from what you've been doing?

Have  you ever read a story and wish you could change the plot?  If you could, would you change Gone with the Wind, or one of your favorite classics? 
Roxanne Rustand


  1. Roxanne, anytime I read a story with a bittersweet or tragic ending, I always want to re-write it with a happy one. :) And I usually always want to add romance where there isn't one. :)

    I get story ideas all over the place, too. It makes it so fun!

  2. Great post, Roxanne, and funny you should mention Gone with the Wind. That book was the catalyst for my becoming a writer. I HATED the ending and rewrote it dozens of times. lol

  3. I know, I know, Linda! I so agree with you! GWTW was an amazing book in many ways, and it had been referenced in countless writer's workshops for its plotting and characterizations. But I've always hated ambiguous endings in movies and books, and I wanted to know that Scarlett finally, truly changed, and won back the love of Rhett.

  4. And Missy--me too! I don't want tragic endings. I want happy ones, where people have earned and won a happier life after struggling with their conflicts throughout the story.

    I can't remember the title now, but one of the early "romances" I read was about a women who had brain cancer, developed a great romance with the hero, but died at the end. And then, on the anniversary of her death, she always had flowers sent to him. I guess the ending had a lot of impact on me, because I have never forgotten it :) but I still felt cheated at the end!

  5. I like stories with happy endings best, but I know life isn't always like that.

  6. As much as I loved GWTW, I'll have to agree. Wanted to know for sure that Scarlett and Rhett wound up together for their happily ever after.

    If I wrote something completely different, something that completely intimidates me, it would be historical fiction featuring people of African descent but no slaves as main characters. Maybe black abolitionists, something from the Harlem Renaissance period or maybe post WWII.

  7. Hi Roxanne:

    What a coincidence. Last night I watched “Annie Hall” to see how much I’ve changed in 34 years. I had forgotten one of the last scenes in the movie where Woody Allen asks Annie to marry him and move back to NYC. She has grown and likes California and says no and walks away. Next there is a scene where college studens are rehearsing a play and it is word-for-word the good-bye scene. However, at the last minute, Annie comes back and says, “Yes, I’ll marry you.” Woody Allen is watching the rehearsal and he says to the movie viewer that he wanted a happy ending.

    As for changing an ending, I’d change the ending of “The Sorrows or Young Werther” so that instead of killing himself over Lotte’s unrequited love, Lotte leaves Albert and marries Werther. This change would have probably prevented the whole Romantic movement and saved the lives of countless heroes and heroines.

    I’d also have Mimi recover from her TB at the end of La Boehme, and the same for Violetta in La Traviata. Ditto Marguerite in La Dame aux camélias.
    I’d also have the suicidal couple not kill themselves at the end of Elvira Madigan.

    Instead of tragic opera I have HEA opera!


  8. Patricia, that sounds so cool. I've often thought it would be interesting to read a story just like that. I hope you will write it!

  9. Love that, Vince---HEA opera!! You know, you ought to go write those stories with your own twists. They'd be so much more uplifting!

    One movie that really surprised me not too long ago was a re-run of Urban Cowboy on TV. I remember when it was a hit in the theaters, and I liked it a lot--then. I thought the hero was so cool. But now--is it age and experience, or has society as a whole changed? I could barely watch that movie now--the hero was such an incredible jerk to the heroine, and there was so much of the plot that just made me angry. :)

    Maybe the hero was always a loser, and I just didn't see that when I was young.

    Do any of you see your own tastes evolving, while watching older movies or reading books that you once loved?


  10. Wilma,
    I agree. Maybe life doesn't always have happy endings, but then that's why I love genre fiction following an arc of struggle that finally reaches a satisfying ending.

    Sad, awful endings--or the flat, boring or senseless endings in some literary fiction-- make me feel like I've been cheated! :)

  11. I love happy endings, too. I also feel cheated if there isn't one.

  12. You know, until I became a romance writer, it didn't bother me that GWTH didn't have a happy ever after.

  13. Personally, I think you add a tragic ending at your own peril...although somehow Nicholas Sparks continues to do it. How many times haven't you seen a movie that ends with a montague of the moments of high emotion and intimacy? A satisfying ending ties up all the loose threads, revisits all the characters, and weaves them into a coherent pattern that tells the reader all that happened was destined to happen for everyone's greater good. The reader should take a deep breath, wipe away their tears with a sigh and reluctantly close the book.


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