On Plotting

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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

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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?
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