Friday, September 16, 2011

The Innocence of the Non-Writer

I’ve read several websites that suggest that one good method for learning about plot and structure is the technique of watching movies and tracking how and when various plot points happen. Kristen Lamb has used the movie “Finding Nemo” for just such a purpose on her website. Here is just one of many examples. Up until last night, I’ve never tried this technique – at least not consciously – but in the last week I’ve suddenly started figuring out plot twists on television because I recognized the writer’s attempts to divert my attention elsewhere.

Last night, my wife brought “The Lincoln Lawyer” home from the library. It’s a decent film, starring Matthew McConaughey, which tells the story of a lawyer who discovers his client is guilty of the crime of which he is accused, but is prohibited from doing anything about it. There’s more, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Suffice it to say, five minutes into the movie it occurred to me to watch for various plot points and record when they happened. Along the way, I felt it necessary to point some of these things out to my wife, including:

1. How the openings scenes were there to set up the “normal world,”
2. How the purpose of the first major scene was to show us the MC in action and help us relate to him before the “real” plot started,
3. Exactly when the inciting incident occurred,
4. Announcing that the first plot point (the point of no return, when the MC has to make a choice) would happen at the 40 minute mark(assuming the film followed standard structure.)

I’m sure this probably annoyed my wife to no end, but she let me talk anyway.

Turns out the first plot point was way off, not occurring until the midpoint of the film. Oh well. Maybe that’s why I’d never heard of the film?

Anyway, I bring this up because during one of the slower parts of the movie, it suddenly dawned on me that the first major scene, the one whose purpose was to introduce us to the MC, had gone on for too long and been more complicated than it had needed to be. And in that moment of realization, I knew that the secondary purpose of the scene was to introduce us to the biker gang that was going to show up later in the movie and solve some kind of problem. When they showed up at the end of the movie and… wait for it… solved a big problem, I leaped off the couch, shouted “I knew it!” and did a happy dance in the family room.

The wife only wept for a few minutes. She's getting better about this kind of thing.

So, now that I’m seeing movies in this new light, can books be far behind? And will my quest to learn about plot and structure eventually doom me to being unable to watch a movie without spotting clues or upcoming twists too easily?

This is all Kristen’s (among others) fault.

But would I give up writing fiction to regain the innocence of being a non-writer again?


Monday, September 12, 2011

On a Roll!!!

Woo hoo! Not only have I posted twice in three days, but the Detroit Lions also won a game! Armageddon approaches!

Seriously, it’s not like posting every couple of days should be that hard. Most of the blogs I read do it. Even I managed to do that on my previous blog (now dormant except for the occasional comment – usually spam), but that was before my decision to learn how to write fiction. In fact, it was this obsession with fiction that caused me to stop posting at my old blog in the first place.

Rachael Harrie announced the first challenge for the Build Your Platform Campaign a week ago, but due to my being away on vacation and them being really busy when I came back, I never got around to taking up the challenge. The quality of the fiction written by those who did take up the challenge was quite good. Makes me jealous!

Some of my fellow campaigners have been posting “10 Random Things About Themselves,” so I thought I’d join in.

1. I used to run three miles a day many years ago, even though I hated running in high school. My longest run ever was 9 miles.

2. I’m a research chemist by day, and a part-time chemistry instructor at a local community college by night.

3. I love castles. In fact, I love all old stone buildings – the older the better. Actually “love” is probably too weak a word, but if I told you how I really feel about castles, this post would most likely get banned in some countries.

4. I enjoy reading books on alchemy and trying to replicate their experiments. Hmmm, alchemy, castles, teaching at a school... Is there any wonder why I feel such a connection with the Harry Potter books?

5. My wife and I rarely watch television real time. We record them and watch them later, when it fits our schedule. Unfortunately, this often results in a three month backlog of shows by the time April rolls around, requiring marathon viewing sessions in order to finish them all up before summer.

6. My memory for names and faces is abysmal. Rarely can I make it through a movie without having to ask my wife who’s who at least once. They all look the same. And don’t even think about asking me to help the police sketch artist come up with a composite. One of my biggest fears is that all the characters in my book will end up sounding the same. I may not be able to tell!

7. Autumn is my favorite time of year. Halloween, the start of school, milder days, cooler nights (with just a hint of mystery), and my birthday. The biggest problem with fall up here in Michigan is that it doesn’t last very long. Summer hangs on too long and then it just passes right on through to winter. Sometimes we only get about two weeks of real fall weather.

8. I love video games, although I no longer have much time to spend on them. I’m also the one responsible for getting my kids hooked on Portal. Sorry, honey, I didn’t mean for it to happen. (Yeah, right.)

9. I believe I have finally entered the “Blog Event Horizon” (ala Douglas Adams), which means I am now following more blogs than it is possible to read in a 24 hour period.

10. I would love to retire in Britain someday. The castles and history alone are worth it.

Bonus random fact:
My long term plan is to eventually get around to writing my own series, sell a bazillion books, buy a castle in Britain (a haunted one would be best), spend all my time developing the Philosopher’s Stone, and pay someone else to read blogs for me.

Now all I have to do is learn everything there is to writing fiction and finish my book about Hogwarts. Baby steps, Ken. Baby steps.

P.S. You probably noticed all the extraneous qualifiers (probably, really, actually, etc.) sprinkled throughout the post. It’s best that I get them out of my system now instead of them showing up in my WIP later. Sorry if they made your eyes bleed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. (Yeah, so I'm a little behind. What else is new? At least the writing is progressing.)

As far as my wife and I were concerned, Labor Day mostly involved lying around the house. We had just returned from a trip down to Missouri and were trying to recover from the shock of going from 100 degree days in Missouri to 60 degree days back here in Michigan. Quite a shock to the sinuses, let me tell you.

Of course, when you return from any trip that lasts more than a day or two, you always have to face the debris which builds up while you're away. For me, the largest debris pile was Google Reader, which held over 400 entries from all the writing blogs I follow. I've been rushing through the posts as fast as I can, but the queue seems to be refilling almost as fast. I suppose that's one of the consequences of having made so many new friends through the Building Your Platform Campaign. (Which I heartily recommend, BTW. Thanks, Rachel.)

Now all I have to do is start posting a little more often to give all my new followers a reason to keep coming back.

On the writing front: Even though I'm only about two-thirds of the way through the rough draft, I've gone back and started editing the first third of the book (again). I know you're not supposed to do that, but I just can't help it. Besides, after beating one's head against a chapter for a week or two and realizing it's still crap, it boosts my morale to go back and see how much better the earlier chapters read. Gives me hope that even when I write crap, it's still fixable -- at least in theory.