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"What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here."*

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on May 24, 2010 in Writing |

When I write, I don’t outline the whole plot before I start writing. I don’t write out each plot point on little Post-it notes, stick them all over the walls, and rearrange them periodically as the story evolves. In fact, I don’t do any kind of formal plotting at all. I don’t even really consciously think about plot (except occasionally in the shower when some combination of hot water, steam, and suds inspires the synapses in my brain to fill in the answer to a plot question I never asked).

So it came as somewhat of a shock that a lot of feedback I’ve received says I’m great at plotting. Screw all the backstory I came up with (but not necessarily included in the actual story) to help enrich each of my characters and the setting and all the workshops, reading, and writing I’ve done (including this blog) to help develop my voice. Nah…none of that seems to have infused itself into my writing in any way that would make someone praise those things…but plot, that thing I’ve hardly thought about, yeah, got that down pat!

Maybe I shouldn’t complain about getting compliments, but I can’t help but let it annoy me that something I’ve put very little effort into is getting all the praise, while other things that I’ve worked really hard on earn no recognition at all, or worse, garner criticism.

(Did I mention how much I struggle with taking criticism? I’m great at faking it…I nod my head, like I really agree with this person who probably took 10 whole minutes of his/her life to read my work. I smile at them and make them think they are really coming up with some great points for me to work on. But really, as they pick apart my beloved story piece by piece, I think Did I really pay (or do a critique of this person’s work) to be made to feel like a complete idiot who has no business writing for children and maybe has no business alive at all because based on his/her criticism, I clearly have no redeeming qualities that warrant my existence.)

So in an effort to get my brain to get off the plot train and onto the character one, I’ve been thinking about people I’ve met (or sometimes people I’ve just seen) as characters in fiction. I’d like to make this a regular feature on my blog. I think I’ll try to stay away from anyone I know who might read this blog (although I have so few followers, that will probably be easy to do!) and stick to acquaintances, near strangers, or those I have met and am likely never going to see again.

Check in soon to meet Christina and Don, some characters the hubby and I met in St. Lucia. And feel free to share how you go about developing characters…because I clearly need all the help I can get!

*Radiohead

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8 Comments

  • Anne M Leone says:

    A really nice observation about getting complimented on the things you don't work at… I used to struggle with that too when I worked as a teacher. I loved being a teacher and took a lot of pride in my job, but my heart has always been in my writing. I always used to wonder, why is it that teaching comes so easily to me, when what I really care about seems such an impossible dream. But perhaps that's the way of life. We all have things we're naturally good at, and things that we have to work really hard at, and I guess our personal preferences don't always match up with that.

    All of this is to say, I'm really struggling with my plot at the moment, so your ease looks very desirable from afar. =)

  • Katie L. Carroll (KT) says:

    Very interesting, Anne. I think the things we have to work the hardest at are often the things that end up being the best accomplishments.

    I couldn't help but smile when you said you are struggling with plot. I bet you have a great voice or are really good at characterization or something else. The grass is always greener…

  • Anne M Leone says:

    Yes, exactly. The things that are hardest to come by should be the best to accomplish. At least, I hope so! =)

    Um, yeah… voice comes a LOT easier to me. And I wouldn't trade it. Except for maybe a week of your plotting skills. =)

  • Andrea says:

    I'm jealous of your ability to plot without stickys! For me, plot is the hardest part.

  • Katie L. Carroll (KT) says:

    Anne, maybe we can do a brain swap for a week!

    Andrea, the great thing about not being able to plot is that someone can always help you work out your plot. Voice is a bit trickier…not really able to be taught!

  • Anne M Leone says:

    "Someone can always help you work out your plot." Uh… have you SEEN my plot? =) No, you're probably right, but at the moment it's a bit of a slog and I'm running out of people to happy to discuss every intricate detail with me.

    Would love to do a brain swap sometime. Must put that in my calendar! =)

  • Rochelle says:

    Howdy Katie: I've only had a couple of creative writing courses, so I'm not sure if this will be helpful, but here goes:

    This struck me as curious – "Screw all the backstory I came up with (but not necessarily included in the actual story) to help enrich each of my characters and the setting"

    Why isn't that in the story? I'm sure you have a good picture in your head but does the reader? Have your critiques said that they're not vivid enough? Are you using actions as well as descriptions to give the readers a strong sense of who they are? I remember being told in a writing class that character traits come out in action: don't say they are heroic or generous, show it, for example. Which I'm sure you are, but maybe not repeatedly enough?

    Here are a few questions that came to me: (I'll stick to the main character of your quest novel) – I'm assuming she is on a hero's journey. Is she an outsider or a golden girl? How is this manifested in the writing? Was she raised with a sense of duty or is she acting out of curiosity? Does she have habits that keep cropping up, like tucking her messy hair behind her ears, until she finally ties it back or cuts it off, just as she's getting to the penultimate scene? Does she carry a totem like the silver dollar her grandfather gave her, and does she take it out of her pocket and rub it when she's thinking of what to do next? Or maybe it's her military brother's "throw coin" or her sister's ankle bracelet – which nobody knows she wears because she covers it with her sock. Does she find and eat foodstuffs along the trail because she learned all that in scouting, or did she pack a trillion fluffernutters because that's all she eats? Does she wear her dad's old denim shirt as a jacket, or did she pack her sweater which she refuses to wear because it's scratchy?

  • Katie L. Carroll (KT) says:

    Hey, Rochelle! Your few writing courses (or maybe your analytical mind from all those puzzles) really paid off. You posed some really thought-provoking questions. I will definitely be spending some time thinking about them. (Oh, and I did put some of that backstory into the actual story, but certainly not all of it. It's such a delicate balance between how much is enough and how much is too much.) Thanks for your thoughts.

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