Crafting Plot (With a Partner) by guest blogger Melody Steiner

Last Saturday, I wrote about my dear husband’s failings in the critique department of my writing career. This week I’ll sing his praises. First of all, I’ll say this: my husband was homeschooled in a small community in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio. And while he is well-adjusted and social (his mother is amazing!) he is also extremely well-read. I can’t keep up. He consumes books the way others consume food—three square meals a day, with snacks on the side. He’ll read a meaty plate full of Rilke, with a side of Derrida, and a juice box of Chesterton. And he loves science fiction, too. For me, that’s a big uh-oh.

But wait. It isn’t an uh-oh at all. I use my husband’s internal library to my benefit! When I think I have a plot ironed out, I’ll give him the “cliff-notes” version. If his eyes glaze over and he’s fighting back a yawn, I know there’s something wrong. He’s read this before, or it’s boring him to tears, or I picked the plot of least resistance. Back to the drawing board.

Occasionally, he’ll offer a suggestion. “Look,” he’ll say. “I’ve read ten books in the last week with a similar plot, and all of them end X way. What would really pique my interest is seeing how the characters react if the plot goes Y way, instead.”

His ideas are creative and out-of-the-box. He’s always challenging me to push the limits of the usual tropes, to forge new territories, to leave the familiar. Even if you consider yourself well-read, as I do, it’s invaluable to have that different perspective from a person who reads everything from poetry to self-help books to classic literature. Since none of those are my strong suits, his raw opinion can help round the story or better develop my characters.

As someone who dreams up a million ideas a day, obviously some are going to flop while others will fly. It is essential for me to float my ideas past a person whose opinion I respect, whose body language I can read, and whose insights I take seriously. It’s impossible for me to write a novel for every idea I have—there wouldn’t be enough time in ten lives to accomplish that feat. So when an idea develops into a basic plot, and I share it with my husband, there are one of three conclusions we will draw if a story needs intensive work to make it worth pursuing:

1)      It’s an intriguing idea, but there’s not much else there.

2)      It’s an intriguing idea, but the characters are so boring I can’t stand writing it.

3)      It isn’t an intriguing or new idea at all, but I’m fascinated by the characters.

Even if I do end up drawing one of these conclusions with the help of my husband, I might not completely abandon the story. I might turn it into a short story instead, or rewrite it, or “can” my characters and put them on a shelf for later, to be used in another work.

For me, having a person to bounce ideas off of is essential to the creation process of writing. But what about others? Who do you share your initial plot outlines with? And what are the deciding factors for whether or not you actually pursue a project? 

– Melody

 

Melody Steiner works at an academic library as a circulation technician. In 2006, she graduated from a small private college in Ohio with a Bachelors of Arts in English. After she met and married her husband, they relocated to Seattle, WA. In March, 2011, she graduated from the University of Washington with a Master in Library and Information Science, aspiring to becoming a full-time librarian. Her hobbies include reading the latest YA series (recent favorites include Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go and Paoli Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker), camping, and enjoying long walks with her best friend. Last November, they had their first little peanut—a rambunctious baby girl. In addition to adult science fiction, she writes fantasy and YA novels. She is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency. You can find her at http://twitter.com/melody_steiner.
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One thought on “Crafting Plot (With a Partner) by guest blogger Melody Steiner

  1. You are truly blessed to have someone like this to bounce ideas off and offer suggestions. My husband does the same for me, and I love it. Good post!

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