Plotting and screaming

Public service announcement: Bully the little stuffed blogging bull, whose ongoing attempt to catalogue the entire PG Wodehouse canon stands as as a source of inspiration to online-journal-keepers everywhere (primarily because being left in the dust by a fuzzy toy would be pretty damn embarrassing) has finally got round to one of the finest comic novels in the English language.

Be it known that we at Shoe Central are seriously considering putting failure to chortle within two seconds after clicking through that link on our personal shortlist of Reasons Not to Trust Anyone Who Doesn’t. Or at least looking at them kind of funny.

Anyway. It’s Day One of life after sinus infection, and yours truly is finally starting to sit up and take notice. Quips have been exchanged with friends; online fiction has been perused, the iPod has been refreshed with new audiobooks. The dancing-girl ‘illusion’ has been stared at right up until I realised I was trying to coolly analyze why it kept coming out ‘right-brained’, which on account of I’m pretty slow on the Net-gag uptake took awhile. The creative juices are, beyond a doubt, well and truly stirring.

I’m pretty good at this critical/commentary stuff. Even in my notoriously fluttery breast, that’s been established to a nicety. Reviving it, via this journal, has been oodles of good fun; I’ve already that pleasant sensation of having really good things within my power to grasp. So much so, in fact, that imagination has already rushed past daily blogging and is starting to reach out for…well, for the moon.

Y’see, It has long and long been my ambition to try my hand at writing fiction. And not only on the ‘all critics are thwarted creative types’ principle. Almost literally all my life – Shoemom says even before learning to read at age five, I cried in frustration at not being able – I’ve felt as though, in knowing the secret of words, that I understood something important, powerful, something that gave life its depth and colour and richness and satisfaction. To me a well-turned phrase is as music, with all the attendant evocative power; when I’m writing myself, and know (or, more often, am told) what I’ve written is good, the sheer rightness of it can send me singing through days and days.

“Well that’s just lovely, Shoe,” is of course the logical response, “but why then have we not been graced, yea verily inundated, with the kaleidoscopic outpourings of your gravid pen? Where is the vast literary output that must needs leave even the dedication of a little stuffed bull behind in the dust?”

After which, of course, I will give you a couple seconds to mop your brow. After that, I will sit a little apart, musing; and eventually, having wrung every single drop of literary cachet possible out of this attitude with all the dedication of Virginia Woolf on a reallyreally good day, I will…uh…be forced to make a confession.

I’m a lousy plotter.

You see, as noted in the previous lengthy ramble on this subject, while crammed with enough inner excitement that at least five people have sworn off playing Trivial Pursuit with me for life, I have not led what you might call a rich and varied outer existence. So…I created characters to do all the fun stuff for me. Lots and lots and lots of characters – types of people I read about, or wanted to be or wanted to meet or sometimes just wanted to look like. Often I co-opted characters I was particularly fascinated with right out of my reading; a sort of mental fanfic, years before I understood the term.
Domestic characters modelled after the ‘Sweet Dreams’ novels I read as a teen; science-fiction/fantasy characters who, if they weren’t directly cribbed, at least generally ran into the crew of the Enterprise pretty frequently; detective characters, based off my love of unique and quirky sleuths; and wholly abandoned characters, made up of scraps of my earliest, most savagely individual wants and needs, currently occupying a windswept moor after the manner of Bronte or Dickens.

These characters were and are very real, to me. They were given very precise physical (and emotional) descriptions, careful backstories, some refined over decades; in the present they were given full rich lives to lead, people to interact with, page after page of mental dialogue. They re-enacted scenes that entered my head as dramatic or funny or exciting; while I vicariously enjoyed their emotional thrills.
Characters I liked best usually had to endure a severe spell of Black Creeping Cholera or whatever, followed by a long period of heroic suffering. All budding authoresses love melodramatic deathbed scenes, I guess. (Luckily for my creative karma, most were promptly resurrected.)

Thus after thirty-odd years of this, as you can imagine, I have some extremely well-developed characters all ready to take flight on the printed page, er, screen. Characters that come as close as I’ll ever get to my own children. I want, more than anything in the world, to write about them. Actually tried, a little while ago, with a group off the fantasy-scifi branch.

That, as it happened, was where the trouble started. I got a few chapters into that story and realised I didn’t actually have what you might call a story. I had a bunch of vivid scenes held together with stuff I just…knew…about these characters. I had huge gaps that were routinely papered over with ‘And then ________ happened’…and when I started ripping off the paper and spackling in the gaps I realised to my horror that I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

I’d never had to, was the thing. These characters had been created to be something to me that already existed; if that makes any sense. Reflections of stuff I thought was fun or cool. They had come to life, but their surroundings were still nice serviceable cardboard.
So I had never tried to come up with anything interesting on my own. Was in point of fact now staring dismayed down the hollow core of my ambitions, not at all sure that I could ever rebuild. Wracked my brain for weeks, trying; then finally, began to resist the effort as forcing something that wasn’t fun anymore, not special, just rather ordinary and hence – kind of – shameful. Here I’d been pretending to be a writer, ha ha ha. Best I get out before anyone else started laughing.

But…damnit…I can write. I mean, I can take words and twirl them around and make people interested in them. If nothing else at all, I have a mother who’s convinced I’m the Second Coming of Catherine Cookson (having read a few jottings re: that abandoned tribe).

I can write fiction, even. Given a movie or TV scene to ‘novelise’, I can rip off pages of acceptable house style in my sleep. Have even once or twice tried a hand at fanfic with decent results. Have just recently re-read a little ‘bible’ I put together to memorialise my domestic character set (nothing worse than coming up with the perfect name only to forget it a few months later) and am frankly rather startled at the quality of the sketches therein.

I just can not plot on my own. I have no feeling for the idea-generating process to begin with, or the mechanics of keeping it going after that. Understand, I’m not talking about wildly inventive flights of fancy, here; I’d be content with a decently original driving concept, maybe a twist or two towards the end. If I could figure out how to get there, the rest would be – lovely. Just lovely.

This afternoon, bored out of my skull at work, I ‘imagined’ out the meeting of two of the domestic characters at their twenty-years’ high school reunion; one mourning the airly recent loss of a beloved spouse (told you!), the other trying to – comfort, or perhaps more. Just tossed it into the air…and it stayed there long enough to give me enough impetus to go on. Perhaps, after all, I just need to start further back than I’d planned.

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