Plot Clinic: the Middle Third

Note: I’m going to do some plotting for BBC in this post- spoilers for this book and future possible sequels under the cut. If you’re reading along with the serial and would prefer not to be spoiled, better skip this post.

Often when writing and outlining it’s easy to see how the story should begin, and easy to see how the story should end, but quite difficult to see how it should proceed in the middle. The middle third of a book is generally prone to what I call “story collapse”, where there’s just not enough going on to prop up the narrative arc and everything turns to unpleasant mush.

Of course, with “Bell, Book and Candle” I don’t even know where the story will end…which gives me even less of an idea of what to do in the middle, and I’ve just arrived (with Friday’s post) at the end of my outline. :/

So, what to do?

What else could go wrong?

Below is some excellent advice from the peerless Tami, which she shared with me when I was going through plot collapse with Princess’s third act:

Write down a quick synopsis of your main plot and any side plots (including romances) you know you’re keeping.

Ask yourself “What else could happen?” or “What else could go wrong?”
Alternately, list out your characters very very briefly and ask yourself “what are they contributing to make the plot WORSE or more uncomfortable or screw things up? What are they contributing to solve the problem?” and if you have someone not doing enough to screw things up, go back to plan A and “What else could happen?”
Okay. So let’s give this a shot with BBC, and see where it takes us.

Continue reading

The Enthusiastic Yes

This is another one of those lessons you need to learn before being a grownup, but it applies to writing as much as it does to anything else, so I figured it was a good one to talk about.

Making Decisions and Setting Boundaries

There are lots of signs of maturity. I’ve talked about one of them — long-term thinking — already, but let’s take a look at a couple of others.

First, I want to consider decision making. Being an adult means making lots of decisions. Frankly, being a human means making lots of decisions: by the time I’ve had breakfast, I’ve decided whether or not to make my bed, what I’m going to wear that day, what food I will eat, what I need to pack in my bag, etc. etc. etc. But being an adult means making the sorts of decisions that are often harder, or have longer-term consequences, or affect others as well as yourself. (I really do want kids, but sometimes I think about the idea of being responsible for a child and wonder why anyone is ever brave enough to have one).

Another facet to adulthood is increased comfort with setting boundaries. As you come to know yourself better, you come to understand your limits better, and you (hopefully) become more confident about enforcing those limits and setting boundaries for yourself and others. (I’m still working on this one; had a couple mishaps this year. It’s a learning experience).

Say Yes to the Dress

Often, in the sorts of situations which call for decision-making or boundary-setting, you can reduce the problem to a series of yes or no questions. It’s simplistic, but it opens up certain avenues of discussion, so let’s try. Do I want cereal, yes or no? Do I want pancakes, yes or no? Or, consider this: do I want him to kiss me, yes or no? Am I comfortable going back to his place, yes or no?

And here you see an arena where this sort of discourse has become commonplace — the arena of sexual consent. But where a couple years ago your college consent workshop might have talked about “no means no”, recently a lot of the discussion has shifted focus toward “enthusiastic consent”.

Enthusiastic Consent

Now we’re starting to get to the heart of the issue. What is enthusiastic consent? It’s not a “maybe”, or an “okay”, or even a lukewarm “yes” — it’s a “hell yes”, an “absolutely”. I’ve got my own concerns about that as a foundation upon which to base all your decisions (when is a person ever actually totally sure about anything?) but I understand and appreciate what it’s aiming for.

In terms of sexual stuff, then, enthusiastic consent is not doing something because you think you “should”, or because you don’t mind, exactly. It’s doing something because you really, truly want to.

Applying the Model

But the reason I’m talking about this today isn’t (just) because I want to slip in a reminder to everyone that consent is important and your boundaries are valid. The thing is, while “enthusiastic consent” is pretty common in discussions of sex, I think that a slightly modified concept, the “enthusiastic yes”, can apply to lots of other situations in life.

Let’s start with the example of clothes shopping. How many times have you bought something because you mostly liked it, except for one or two things — or because it was cheap and you thought it wasn’t bad? I’m betting more than once — I certainly have. Follow up question: how often do you wear those pieces? Probably not often. (Or if you do, you don’t feel great wearing them).

But it is a waste of your money to buy something that you don’t love. You wear clothes every day; even in a country that has actual seasons (what is this permanent 40-60 degree nonsense, England?) you’ll end up wearing everything fairly frequently. So it’s in the best interests of your budget, your storage space and your mental health to buy fewer things, but make sure they’re things you love. 

Don’t just say yes to the dress. Wait for an enthusiastic yes.

An “Enthusiastic Yes” to Writing

And now we come to the real reason I’m writing a damn essay on concepts of consent. Here’s the thing: writing is hard. In some ways, it’s a miserable hobby — lots of work for potentially little reward (depends on what your end goal is, but if it’s publishing then good luck my friend), solitary, emotionally grueling, time consuming. In short, it’s not something to waste your time on if you only sort of like it.

No, writing is something you have to say an enthusiastic yes to. It’s just not worth it otherwise.

(As an aside: this might sound like it contradicts what I was saying earlier about being satisfied with doing things at a “lower” level, but it’s not. I’m not saying that you have to be aiming for pro status to call yourself a writer; I’m saying if you’re going to pursue writing at any level, do it because you love it, and love it enthusiastically).

In conclusion…

…your time is valuable. Your labor is valuable. You are valuable, and you should make choices that reflect that value. So hold out for a pair of jeans that fits in the butt and the leg (I’m still looking…), or you’ll end up with one more pair that you never take out of the closet.  Don’t date the boy that you sorta liked okay and don’t mind seeing — date the boy that you actively want to talk to and hang out with. Choose to spend your time on the things that make you happiest, instead of wasting your precious time on the things that don’t.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, and a harder lesson to implement, but the results are so, so worth it.

A Brief Update

I’m taking a momentary break from reading a book about anthropologists while drinking tea out of a mug with a skeleton on it — and if that’s not simultaneously the most English, academic, bioanth thing I’ve ever done I’ll eat my hat — to let you all know what I’ve been up to.

Short answer? Working.

Long answer?

Sometimes life sucks, and sometimes your supervisor wants drafts five months in advance, and sometimes you don’t have the energy to blog when you’re consumed with thoughts of the Neolithic Demographic Transition and its implications for health.

And when I’m not working, I’ve been trying to be a good social primate and interact with actual humans instead of hiding in my room and doing solitary things (like blogging).

This sounds like complaining – it’s not! I’m having a fabulous time. (Mostly). But I am very busy.

In terms of writing, I’ve re-plotted Act III and am currently teasing out a couple of tricky scenes. Progress is slow (funny how school will do that), but we’ll get there eventually.

And now, before it gets cold, to return to my tea.

Writing On the Average

With seven-billion-plus people on the planet, each with a slightly different brain wiring, it’s no wonder nobody can agree on how to write a novel.

Even if you limit yourself to the set of authors with a web presence who write in English, you can still find advice and opinions that cover the whole spectrum: Write every day. Write when you feel like it. Schedule your writing. Write a small amount regularly. Write a large amount less frequently. And on and on and on…

Often these sorts of articles/blog posts come with the disclaimer that people differ and you should do what works for you. (Sometimes they don’t, and that usually means they’re trying to sell you something). But then the question becomes how do you know what works for you? You try it out. Continue reading

The First Rejection

Between Facebook and Twitter, I’m fairly certain all of my regular readers have heard this news already. However, I’m going to take a moment to repeat it here, because this blog is supposedly a place to chronicle my writing journey and this is an important milestone in it.

I got my first rejection.

And lest you fret, gentle reader, imagining my reaction to such a thing, I hasten to assure you: I’m actually pretty excited.

Am I disappointed that my story wasn’t accepted? Sure. I mean, the whole goal of this process is to end up with something in print. And I wouldn’t have submitted the story to the magazine unless I wanted it to be published there. But it’s a little piece of confirmation that yes, I am actually doing this author thing — even if the result isn’t ideal.

So now that we’re on the subject, let’s talk a little bit about rejections. Continue reading

The Sixth Sin

(I typed that title, and now I’m trying to think of the story that goes with it. Cool it, brain! We’ve got enough on our plates right now.)

Have you ever read something and thought to yourself “God, I wish I’d written that”?

It’s not a feeling that comes around too often, thankfully for my stress levels. But sometimes…sometimes I read something and it’s just so good that I am seized with this terrible desire for it to have been my creation… Continue reading

Writing Rhythmn

I’ve gotten a pretty good rhythm going over this Winter Break of mine. I’ve got a lot of momentum going. I’ve struck of good balance of creative work (rewarding, but drains the energies) and recharging (unproductive, but necessary).


Tomorrow, I go back to school.

And suddenly it’s a whole new ballgame – I have to juggle classes with schoolwork with writing with reading if I have the time (haha, no) and you can forget about television or movies or lazing about.

How? How do I find that balance?

I’m not sure that I really expect an answer, since this is something, as far as I can tell, that everyone struggles with. But it’s a pain to think about.

On the bright side, I’m taking a lot of fun classes this semester (my LAST SEMESTER HOLY CRAP WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE) so at least I should enjoy myself as my writing schedule goes down the toilet…

My Way or the Highway

In ballet, there’s only one way to do an arabesque.

Well, okay, that’s a little misleading. In fact, there are several variants of arabesque – first, second, fifth, etc. etc. And those variants will have different names depending on the school (Vaganova, Chechetti, etc. etc.). But the basic step is the same, and there’s only one way to do it: you lift your leg up behind you with your knee straight, your leg turned out, and your foot pointed. That’s an arabesque.

Writing is not like ballet. There are as many ways to write as there are people who write! Everyone has their method.

So let’s talk outlining. Continue reading

To Begin at the Beginning

It’s sort of an odd thing, really, that I’m writing a novel. I mean when I’m in the thick of it, when I’m smithing sentences and dancing my fingers across a keyboard (or dragging my hand through the ink till it’s black – ain’t it great to be a lefty?) it seems like the most natural thing in the world…but it wasn’t. Not for me.

The Question

Somewhere in my daily round of procrastination, as I trolled through the blogosphere to avoid doing something more productive, I cam across a post that asked a very simple question.

“What is your first memory of writing?” Continue reading

Keep On Keepin’ On

Today I had a minor setback (also apparently I can’t spell anymore, as the first version of that sentence came out “toady I had a minor stepack”).

I realized that I had written a scene that did nothing to advance the plot forward.

In it, our intrepid Princess was very hungry, thought about food for a while, and then they came across a house and ate dinner and slept and kept travelling.

…I’m not kidding.

Doesn’t that sound boring? It was. There was no conflict! There was nothing important happening! It was not, to borrow a word from my friend Tami Moore, Plotcritical.

My reaction was to have a total panic attack and convince myself that I’d wasted a day of writing and I should delete everything. Continue reading