May 17, 2004

plotting

Sometimes it's hard to tell a writing exercise from a case of insomnia (which may actually explain a lot about my brother, come to think of it). Last night I couldn't get to sleep, so I set myself the challenge to come up with 5 sketchy plot ideas, quality not required. This is clearly not going to be a good getting-to-sleep strategy for me*, since I only got as far as one plot and still didn't really get solidly to sleep until 2AM or so. That's much worse than it sounds, if you recall that on our rowing days (which Monday is) the alarm is set to 4:00 AM. Yeah, not especially enjoying today, but anyway.

The plot bunny: girl and boy grow up together in small town way out on the outskirts of a loose-knit empire. (Going-to-sleep plots are excused from the niceties of world-building.) As they grow up they practice swordwork together and both become very good. They also fall in love with each other. Boy pleads with girl to marry him. She agrees but only to a contract marriage lasting a year and a day instead of a permanent one, because when she reaches her majority she wants to go out into the world to seek fame and glory. (She's young and idealistic.) The year and a day are very happy, but as it draws to an end and she prepares to leave, there are tears on both sides. She loves him but still feels the need to go. He understands, though he's more of a rooted type. Then tragedy strikes and honor calls her to stay at home. Possibly one parent dies and she must work the farm to preserve it until her younger sibs can inherit it. Instead, the boy decides he will go out into the world, performing deeds of glory in her name. (Why he doesn't just stay home with her, I have no idea. See "young and idealistic", above.) He does so, and achieves great reknown, always wearing her token and refusing to be swayed by other women; I'm thinking preaux chevalier in dirty leather, unshaven. (Which the other women don't mind because all men are like that. It's a Dark Ages sort of empire.) After five years or so he's on his way home to lay his glory at her feet and and ask her to marry him for good. Just as he begins to head home, though, an invasion force or a band of reivers descends on their village. She's kept up her sword skills all this time and has been studying battle tactics (possibly as a career move; she's afraid shen she finally gets out of the village she'll be too old to be an ordinary fighter -- she either finds the books at a local monastery or there's an old lord who has handed the reins of the estate to his son, who finds amusement in teaching her. Her skills and knowledge are well-enough respected int he village that they follow her lead and oust the invaders, who flee the country because they reason that if a small uncouth village is this ferocious, the actual army must be formidable. As the boy journeys home, all he hears are the bards singing of the girl's great victory; her glory has eclipsed his own. Not being a jealous sort, he arrives home and lays his glory at her feet anyway, commending her victory and telling her that she was the inspiration for all his, that he did all his glorious deeds in her name. She falls into his arms, saying, "Then we can trade -- because I fought my battle in your name." Possibly there is something about how she used a tactic they developed together as young students. Her sibs are old enough not to need her anymore, and the girl and boy marry and take off to travel the empire together. Having both sated their bloodlust, they take their swords along only for defense, and they go incognito to avoid being challenged by other young fighters eager for glory.

Phew. Long synopsis. Nope, don't think I could write the story. Actually, it sounds rather like something Barbara Hambly would do.

The second plot was going to begin like so many of my favorite stories, with a group of children finding a magic token and then ... The problem was that I got caught between their having magical work in their own world, la E. Nesbit, or traveling to remote semi-magic climes where they'd meet totally facical pirates or savages, la other Nesbit and Edward Eager, or going to a different country altogether, la CS Lewis or Pamela Dean.

After that my mind drifted off and I think I slept for an hour or so, woke up, thought about work and rowing, realized I hadn't downloaded the data from my StrokeCoach (boat computer) which would get overwritten by Monday's row), decided I needed to give up on laying there trying to sleep, went downstairs, downloaded the data, went back to bed, and got a blissful two hours of sleep until I woke three minutes before the alarm went off. If my sentence structure is unspeakable, kindly blame it on lack of sleep.

* What usually works for me in trying to get to sleep is alphabet games, picking a topic like song titles or poem first lines or places or words of 5 or more syllables, and trying to come up with an example beginning with each letter of the alphabet in turn. I usually drop off by about 'j'.

Posted by dichroic at May 17, 2004 11:49 AM
Comments

The first plot: You could do it, P, but you would need to throw in ancillary characters. And, if my own past experience and that of many others' holds true, the ancillaries will take over to a slight exent--you may well end up liking them more than your protags.

The thing is, you need other things besides what is just discussed--because though the ideas are fertile enough to grow a good story, the temptation--with such straight-ahead concepts as "he goes away yet returns" and "they band together to fight off the bad guys"--to make the time pass too quickly can render a deep story lightweight enough to put off the reader. So yes; other things. The mentor character is a must to be fleshed out, and the interplay between the mentor and the woman, and the possible jealousy in the young Lochinvar as well. (Note: That'd be a good character tone--to have this accomplished warrior, besought by and besotting scads of women, be so tied to his love for this woman that even he falls into insecurity at the thought of her attention ever going elsewhere)

And you need a better antagonist--even if you do iut as a mass antagonist, you'd need to play up the reivers more.

Granted, this is just a quick precis you've given us, but a lot can be done with this.

... But you could certainly write it. You have the talent, and the story has the verve.

(Of course, what you would need would be the TIME. Perhaps if you give up sleep ...?)

Personally, I would at the end of it kill the guy--or, even better, maim him, and have her venture forth into the world from time to time on heroic jaunts, always coming home to her foreverlove, who to her now is no less a man for being largely unable to fight. In fact, I'd move that a LOT earlier into the story, to better explore who these people truly are when ideals run out; how they come to terms with themselves, each other, and life; and how even when seemingly broken, they can still triumph.

Just some quick thoughts from your Brother the Buttinski ...
(Now I have to finish this column I'm doing and work on the Novel Which Will Not be Written ...)

Posted by: Alex Jay Berman at May 18, 2004 12:03 AM


--- alexjay@earthlink.net wrote:

> Granted, this is just a quick precis you've given
> us, but a lot can be done with this.
>
> ... But you could certainly write it. You have the
> talent, and the story has the verve.

No, I really don't. Or maybe not the drive, or something else. I've written fiction exactly twice in my life, once on assignment for high school English and once on request for a college engineering magazine. Neither was much good (rambling, unstructured).
>
> (Of course, what you would need would be the TIME.
> Perhaps if you give up sleep ...?)
>
> Personally, I would at the end of it kill the
> guy--or, even better, maim him, and have her venture
> forth into the world from time to time on heroic
> jaunts, always coming home to her foreverlove, who
> to her now is no less a man for being largely unable
> to fight. In fact, I'd move that a LOT earlier into
> the story, to better explore who these people truly
> are when ideals run out; how they come to terms with
> themselves, each other, and life; and how even when
> seemingly broken, they can still triumph.

See, that's why I thought of Hambly -- she often shows love between people who aren't young and idealistic any more, who have their scars. Your suggestions are on the mark, but I'm still not gonna write it. Feel free to steal any bits you want.

But I still don't think the characters needed to be felshed out any further in the *summary*. IN the story, yes.

Posted by: dichroic at May 18, 2004 09:22 AM
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