Plotting Along

Plots are amazing, especially when you complete one, when you pull the strings toward you and hear the snap. I dream about plots. I try to walk about a mile a day so that I can think about plots. The most difficult thing a writer will ever do is to find a coherent place of burial for the carefully crafted characters who so willingly allow their futures to be synthesized in the hands of their often, clueless creators.

I have been reading literature for a long time and I’m always amazed at well crafted plots, succinct stories that come from writers like Anita Shreve and Sue Monk Kidd. They write masterful plots. They create fine lines that tie together with golden bands, leaving the reader with the sighs of a well told story, a world entered and exited with the utmost attention to detail.

Then, there are a few of my other heroes. For instance, Wally Lamb and Caleb Carr who write plots that are like vast oceans, and once adrift in them, you fear for your life: God, where is this going? But then, miraculously you are placed on the shore like a well fed baby, giggling and cooing for more kisses.

I have learned about writing from reading other people’s novels. I have learned more than any professor of creative writing could teach me. And I’m not putting down creative writing professors because I taught creative writing once upon a time, back before I ever got hooked on plotting a novel. Yes, back then, I enjoyed poems and stories I could end quickly. Now I understand why. Creating plot is like starting with a seed and trusting that all the branches will bloom. You plot along with an obsessive willingness to craft a journey worth taking.

I have completed seven novels, two are published and two more are in process. In process means I am adrift in the sea of imagination, logical conclusions and satisfying endings. Not that I was satisfied with the ending of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, or Cold Mountain. I was devastated and sad, and tried to find peace in the ultimate belief that heaven is real and both dogs and star crossed lovers can reunite. I don’t know if I want to make my readers sad, but I don’t necessarily want to make them happy either. I have to give LuAnne Rice credit, she is a real Irish poet, emotional and romantic and following her tight and repetitive plots your tear ducts will get a work out, but she always returns us to the shores of satisfaction, where all is well.

I wonder if I want a happy ending for my latest character, a woman near seventy, who has certainly lived her life with regrets, heartache, and moments of tender reminisces. I wonder if I will allow her shattered illusions to heal her, or harden her? I think people near seventy years old have a lot to say and I think their lives are a mirror into what we will all face, what we will all feel when we look around the younger world and no longer see our image.

I recently worked a day job with much younger people and the arrogance overfloweth. I felt like an alien on my own planet. But, in actuality, they were the aliens. Their womb was my history and their future is my triumph.  They live in a blind present, a decaying bubble that tries not to show its soul, the one that is aging, bargaining and aching.  I think that’s why I wanted to write my most recent book. My story is a world within a world within a world. And all the inner worlds are what has been lost, reinvented, misinterpreted and rediscovered. I wanted to look through my character’s eyes and see how the mindless illusions of youth granted my heroine the wisdom of indifference and a shedding of all superfluity.

But how do I end my story? I alone can tie in the great journey of aging in a young world and I can bring her home or send her out to sea. But then, I think of a few of my heroes. What would Wally Lamb have done, for instance? Well, I think he would have held me in his long emotional plot, angered me with so many words, confused me with new information, but ultimately, like his characters, I would heal and I would emerge back into the vortex of his vision, where all is treated kindly and felt most deeply. Perhaps, that’s where every plot should lead … toward an inevitable and very human victory.

Vera Jane Cook

Award Winning Must Read Women’s Fiction. Dancing Backward In Paradise was published in November 2006 and received rave reviews from Armchair Interviews and Midwest Book reviews, as well as an Eric Hoffer and Indie Excellence award in the Literary fiction category for notable new fiction in 2007. Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough, Ms. Cook’s second novel, was published this year and will be followed by its sequel, At the End of a Whisper, in 2010. To learn more about her books you can visit her web site at www.verajanecook.com

To contact the author send an email to jane@verajanecook.com

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