On Plotting

Comments: 2

A looooong time ago (I won't say how long) I took a college creative writing course. The professor gave us many techniques to create believable characters, settings, etc., and to create a plot. Since it's been so many years, I've forgotten most of what I learned there, though I'm sure I have internalized most of it anyway, but one thing that still sticks out at me is what he made us do for the final test. It was a "blue-book" essay, or rather short story writing final. He wrote one sentence on the chalk board, obscure, seemingly meaningless, and told us that it had to be the first sentence in our story. Then he wrote another sentence, seemingly unrelated and equally obscure, and told us it had to be the last sentence in our story. Our task was to fill in the middle and make it sound logical. It was tough. I struggled with it for nearly 20 minutes. Then I outlined what I thought could be a possible connection between the two sentences, then wrote the story. It took me about an hour to write it (we had an hour-and-a-half), several pages long, but I got an "A" on the final, and in the class.

I only mention that because I've found it to be one technique in creating a plot - know the beginning and know where you want to end up. Then, connect the dots. Do I get side-tracked? Sure. But I make sure all the stray plot lines eventually come home again, and I make sure they really contribute to the overall theme of the story I'm writing. If not, they get cut.

Yes, I write a rudimentary outline of the plot in paragraph form, and I try to keep to it, but sometimes I have to modify it. But that's okay. As they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day."

About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This

Post a Comment

I find it almost funny, if it were not tragic, to see the furor over my comments at that forum I mentioned regarding the use of the infamous "F-word" in young adult fiction. It seems like whenever I broach the subject it's as if all the minions of hell come out to attack me. Let them. In reading the numerous responses, it seems as if very few writers on that site agree with me, though I know there are many writers who do.

Most of the comments are in the form of, "you can't censor my writing," or "whatever I write is my business, where do you get off?" or "kids hear it all the time, so what's wrong with my writing it."

I even tried to make an association between using the "F-word" and the "N-word." I think the same people who use the "F-word" fairly liberally would never be caught dead using the "N-word." Why? I think the "F-word" is far worse, far more vulgar and immoral, than the "N-word."

I'm tempted to post my comments one more time. This time emphasizing that I'm not for censorship. It may very well be possible to write that word, and vulgar words like it. It may even be permissible, or in some perverted way, even encouraged. That isn't the question.

The question I would ask all writers, writer of YA material as well as writers of adult material is not can we, but should we?

Someone there asked what was my motivation. If I were to answer him/her I would tell them that my motive is to protect our children. As adults, shouldn't we be setting a better example to our children?
Read More »
I once read what Dean Koontz had to say about literary fiction. His feeling is that literary fiction is written primarily for the ivory tower type people, not for the masses. Who reads their stuff after they're gone? he asks. No one. Who buys it when they are alive? Few.

The authors who have mattered and made a real difference were those who appealed to the masses. Think Dickens, London, Steinbeck, and hundreds of others who's works have survived and are still loved long after their deaths. They were not literary writers. In fact, Dickens was considered a hack in his day, as were London and others. But they wrote what appealed to the people, to their audiences. They wrote about what mattered. And, they made a difference in people's lives.

That's what's important, I feel. To make a difference.

I hear so often that writers must NOT insert their own agendas into their writing. We have to be neutral and let the characters work out their own stories.

Balony! I think if we writers don't have anything worthwhile to say, then we have no business writing. Do you for one moment think Dickens, London, Steinbeck, and the hundreds of other great writers in this world didn't have anything to say? Why else are their works still being read today? Because the DID have something to say, something that mattered to the people to whom they wrote.

That, my friends is what makes for great literature, not the literary style that ivory tower professors like to tout.
Read More »
This question recently came up on an on-line writing forum. Should we use the "F-word" in young adult or younger literature? A lot of people said, in effect, that using it just made their works "sound" realistic, and not using it would sound fake.

How about we look at this issue from a moral view point? Aren't most writers adults, many of us writing for teens and children? Shouldn't we then be held to a higher standard than the kids to whom we're writing?

I know kids hear this kind of language all the time. It's nothing new to them. My own kids use to come home from school and had to wash their ears out every day. Still, should we condone that kind of language by emulating it? By including it in our writing, I think we are in effect endorsing it as acceptable.

I think we, as adults, need to set the better example. There are ways around using vulgarity and the infamous "F-word."

In my own novel, I've written about some pretty tough characters who use vulgarity in nearly every sentence, yet you never see the actual words. They are alluded to, but not written, and I do not think it hurts the flow or flavor of my novel. Simply saying, "so-and-so swore," then adding the rest of what he says, gives the readers the understanding that the kid in the story said a bad word or two. The reader can supply the words in his/her own mind without having to actually read the offending word.

I know of many writers who have used this technique quite successfully. Writers like Orson Scott Card, Dean Hughes, and others. I know, for me, I hate having to weed out those offending words as I read a novel, especially if the novel is written primarily for my own children to read.

Don't get me wrong, I do not read my kids books to censor them, but at the same time I don't want to read them as I read a YA novel. I also don't think we adults should write things we wouldn't be proud of having our children read either. We are adults. We should be the examples of a better, moral way of living, not sink to the level of degenerates.

I've also heard the argument that some authors think they need to use fowl language for its shock value. Personally, I feel that is a cheap and lazy way of achieving shock. To truly achieve shock, it should come through the actions and "real" dialog, not cheap tricks.

Let's clean up our acts first, then maybe our children will follow our examples.
Read More »
The other day, I submitted a chapter of my novel, "The Bridge Beckons" to my critique group. I'd rewritten the ending, making it more concise, tightening it up a lot. We have a new lady in our group who hadn't read any of my novel before, and I did not tell her one of the characters was an Italian immigrant. I simply wrote his speech using odd words and awkward sentence structures, speech patterns, idioms, etc., typical of Italian immigrants. I didn't mis-spell any words. I didn't even abreviate any words or add "a"s to the ends of his words, you know like "you know'a go to the store," or, "I like'a you be my friend," kind of stuff. No, I simply wrote his speech the way I think he should talk, and the new lady immediately picked up on it and complimented me on how realistic I'd made him sound. She could tell right off he was an Italian immigrant without all that dialectic mis-spelling.

I think that's what we should strive for. I know it's hard, but it can be done if we listen. Listen to foreigners and people from different parts of our own country, assuming you're from the U.S.A., such as Southerners, New Englanders, etc. Listen to how they talk, how they form their sentences. The word choices they use. For instance, only a Southerner would know how much a "mess" of beans is, or how far a spell is. And maybe I'm wrong, but I've only heard of a "frappe" (spelling is probably wrong) when talking to a person from New England. Or, how about a "hot ticket?" And what about those guys from the Bronx? How would you say, "Hey mister. You can park your car on thirty third and third street?" Would you be inclined to just read it as it's written, or would you almost instinctivelly add in the Bronx accent? (I'm not someone from another country would get this, but I'm hoping they will.)

So, you see, there are many things we can use, aside from laborious mis-spellings, to make a character "sound" like he/she is from some specific place. Try it. Listen to how other people speak, then try to copy it down on paper without using mis-spellings. It can work. I promise.
Read More »
I thought the comments by Anonymous blogger were very well written and insightful. So, I decided to use them and my responses as the next page of my blog site. I hope it may spur even more discussions on the subject of, was Jesus Christ married?



I can certainly appreciate the expression of your beliefs and I certainly don't mind your doing so on my blog site. In fact, I welcome religious discussion as long as it can remain respectful.

You said some interesting things:

1) Jesus was both "fully God and fully man."

I agree with that statement and don't see any reason that would prevent Jesus from being married. Keep in mind, I'm not saying He WAS married, just that I believe He could have been.

2)"Christ's purpose was to ransom the Church with His blood, which is His bride."

Metaphorically, yes. Christ is the bridegroom, the church, in a metaphorical sense, is the bride. Still I see no reason He couldn't have been married.

3) "Human relationships here are a shadowy, flawed reflection of that holy love Christ has for His own."

Huh? I disagree with that statement. Jesus's relationship with us is ultimately personal, not a shadowy, flawed reflection of anything. I used to be a Protestant and I've never heard of that doctrine, even in the Catholic church.

4)"There is also the fact that being fully God as well as fully man, any children He fathered would have been of the same substance as God, meaning they were also God, which would have really been impossible to reconcile the Trinity to."

I don't think so. In my belief structure, Jesus was both mortal and immortal. He had the ability to die, or He could have lived forever, but rather he gave his life voluntarily on the cross for us.

It's His mortal half that would have sired children, assuming there were any. I don't see any conflict there with the God Head, or as you call it The Holy Trinity.

5) "Jesus' other relationships were spoken of, but nowhere is a wife mentioned, and the husband/wife relationship supercedes the parent/child relationship. If He had been married, it certainly would have been mentioned. Since the biblical teaching is that the marriage bed is holy in the eyes of God, there would be no reason to "hide" a marriage in the original texts or the immediate copies after. People would have been able to accept a marriage, because it was acceptable and holy."

A wife is not mentioned out of respect and love for her. Can you imagine what infidels would do to her name, or even to her personally, if they even suspected He had a wife. Consider the kinds of things they already say about Jesus and his Father. I think, if Jesus had a wife, he kept her out of the public eye for her protection as well. If the Jews knew who His wife and children were, don't you think they would have tried to use them, even abuse them, to get at Jesus somehow?

I think, as I said in my original posting, that the fact that the Jews did not ridicule Jesus for NOT being married is evidence that He probably was. It was a rule, if not a law, among the Jews that in order to be a rabbi, a man had to be 30 years of age, which is when Jesus began His ministry, and had to be married. Not mentioned, possibly for the reasons I stated above.

Anonymous, I appreciate your comments. They're insightful and indicate a true love for our Savior.

Thank you,
Read More »
Recently, I interviewed published author Ellen Hopkins. She has a unique writing style, writing novels in verse. She has targeted her novel to young adults. Critics and young people both have told her they love her style and the books she writes.

For more information about her, read my interview with her at: http://www.writers4writers.com/phpnuke/n4wjune.pdf
Read More »
I recently saw the move “The DiVinci Code” and just finished reading the book. I found it very interesting as far as the story line goes. It’s a good murder mystery with a wonderfully exotic background, that of the Priory of Sion, the Nights Templar, and the Holy Grail. The book couldn’t have been easy for Dan Brown to write. The research alone must have taken months. However, I feel he came to some incorrect conclusions in his research.

Brown claims the Nights Templar, and the Priory of Sion do exist, as does Opus Dei. I have no doubt these organizations were, or are real, and to at least some degree, secretive. I also don't doubt some of the so-called "scriptures" he uses, i.e. the Gospel of Phillip," and others he makes reference to, might indeed exist. And, they might indeed say that Jesus Christ was merely human and was married. There are a lot of what I would term "apostate," or apocryphal, writings existing from around 300 A.D. and later. Few, of these "apostate" writings exist much before that time, which is about the time of the Council of Nicaea that was called by (who I would call less than Christian) Emperor Constantine in an effort to (as Dan Brown correctly explains in his The DiVinci Code) unite the various Christian and pagan sects under one united, universal (catholic - meaning universal) church. Constantine was NOT a Christian. He had no ecclesiastical, or priesthood, authority to do this. As Dan Brown correctly states, it was done for political reasons, not religious ones. And before anyone castigates me as a heretic, read the history books for yourself.

Brown also makes a big issue of Jesus Christ being married, and probably to Mary Magdalene. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. And, I think Brown’s assertion is correct that the Council of Nicaea tried to stifle that kind of thinking as many people thought the idea that He could have been married somehow makes him less than Devine. I seriously disagree with that assertion. To me, for Jesus to have remained single would have been breaking his own rules, or commandments if you prefer. Jesus, or Jehova as he was known in the Old Testament, gave as the first commandment to man through Adam and Eve that we should be married (i.e. be fruitful and multiply). The Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 11:11 “... neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” In other words, marriage is ordained by God. It is His plan for happiness and procreation in this world and in the world to come. Surely, Jesus would obey His own commandments, just as he did the commandment to be baptized., though he was sinless. “To fulfill ALL righteousness,” He said.

If Jesus had remained single, he could not have been known as a rabbi. Jewish law required a man desiring to be a rabbi, to be both 30 years old (the age Jesus began his ministry) and married. His Jewish contemporaries would surly have ridiculed him for that, if He hadn’t been married. I think Dan Brown has it partially correct, assuming Jesus was married and had children, that His wife and possible children were kept from the public eye in an effort to protect them. Can you imagine what the Jewish leaders would have done to them if they knew who Jesus’s family were? Hence, no mention is made of any such relationship in the scriptures, though there are some spurious accounts of his having a wife and children in apocryphal texts, plus, I tend to think if He weren’t married, something would have been said about it to explain why he wasn’t married, and how he could still be a rabbi.

Now, this is where Dan Brown’s research gets fuzzy and where he draws some wrong conclusions. Certainly, Jesus’s wife and offspring, assuming there were any, would be protected by the leadership of the church, not some Knights Templar, or Priory of Sion. But let’s give Mr. Brown the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say there was such lineage protected by an organization such as these. Brown’s reasoning falls apart when he accepts the apocryphal texts that depict Jesus Christ as merely a mortal, as equal in authority to the Holy Scriptures that clearly show him as both a mortal man and God. Brown goes on to conclude that it was Mary Magdalene who was a god, not Jesus Christ. She held the power and the authority to run the church. This assertion is strictly wrong. Jesus himself gave the authority to continue the Church the 12 apostles, and in particular to Peter. Brown claims that the apocryphal texts say that Mary Magdalene was in opposition to Peter, but that is definitely in error. True, it was Mary who first saw the resurrected Christ, but to whom did she run to spread the news? None other than the recognized earthly head of the Church, Peter.

I believe the fact that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene was no mere accident, or an act of mercy either. I think it demonstrates a deeper love between Mary and Jesus than that of a mere disciple. Otherwise, why didn’t He first appear to Peter, the chief apostle? That would make more sense, unless Jesus and Mary had a special kind of relationship, possibly that of being husband and wife.

As for Mary and her supposedly sullied past, I have to agree partly with Brown, that she was NEVER a whore. I have to agree with Brown’s assertion that the early Catholic Church leaders, or someone else perhaps, doctored the original text of the early Gospel writers. They possibly confused Mary with the woman Jesus rescued from being stoned. Or, they purposely tried to sully her reputation, as a marriage relationship between her and Jesus would make Him appear less than Godly. To me, however, there is nothing ungodly about the sanctity of marriage, especially when you consider the sacred and eternal nature of the marriage bond. A bond that can last into eternity.

To sum up and repeat my original assertion, I don’t have a problem believing Jesus could have been married, or even had offspring. Dan Brown’s explanation goes too far, however, in his claim that Mary Magdalene was His power and authority.

But remember, as has been stated so many times, The DiVinci Code is fiction. Like I said, I saw the movie and read the book and enjoyed a good murder mystery.
Read More »
To me, a mainstream novel is a book that can't easily be pidgeon-holed. It doesn't easily fit into any of the so-called genre categories, even though it may contain elements of one or more category. I think a book can be considered mainstream if it has a more embitious subject matter, and character development, and theme, as Dean Koontz maintains.

Let's consider some books. What category or genre they would fit in?

"Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck
"Gone with the wind," by Margaret Mitchell
"Moby Dick," by Herman Melvill
"Call of the Wild," by Jack London
"To Kill a Mocking Bird," by Harper Lee

Each of these contain elements of one genre or another, suspense, mystery, adventure, action, romance, whatever. However, I don't think you can comfortably categorize any of them. They transend genre.

That, to me, is what makes a novel mainstream, and what makes it great.
Read More »
I thought today I'd write about something that drives me crazy. It's only one of many things that do that to me, but one that I happened to notice this morning.

I see in a lot of places where people say or write something to the effect that something is X-times less or fewer or smaller than something else. Just this morning I read that scientists have developed a brush 1,000 times finer than a human hair. This is a mathmatical impossibility. Something can't be anything "times" smaller than something else. It can be a fraction of the size, amount, etc., such as 1/1,000th of the size, etc. That works but not 1,000 times smaller. Anything 1,000 times anything else would have to be larger.

I see this in the news media, and ever increasingly even in scientific journals. It's more than just poor grammar, it's not logical or mathmatical.

'Nuff said.
Read More »