Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Puppeteer

HI, all! I'm back from the decadence of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, greenbean casserole, pumpkin pie, etc .... Wheew! Has to be my fave cuisine of all time ... good ol southern Thanksgiving. And, we're officially all decorated at my house. My kids had so much fun yesterday getting the Christmas decor out.I just love the warm glow of colored twinkle lights in my living room.

Anyway, I've been reading the book Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott. Long overdue, I've had it on my shelf for weeks but hadn't had the chance to delve in. Have you read it? It's awesome. If you don't know, it's a writing guide and I highly recommend it. In one of her chapters on plot, she brings up a really good point that got me thinking. I wondered if any of my writer buds were guilty of this too...

In the third maniscript I ever wrote, I tried my hand at an adult political thriller--something I love to read, but never envisioned actually writing. This was back before I really learned how to polish my craft--I was just a fledgling with a dream of writing a novel--and not truly understanding what it takes to craft the story.

In Bird by Bird, LaMott talks of those writers who have a good, strong plot to their story, but they force their characters to follow the plot. This leaves the characters hollow and it makes the writer the God of their story--controlling everything and not allowing the characters to develop and make discoveries and revelations of their own. LaMott is adamant on focusing on the characters first, then the plot and everything else will come naturally.

Wow, I really thought on that for awhile. I was totally guilty of that with the thriller I tried writing. I had a great plot and lots of suspense and secrets that I unveiled sparingly along the way, but I was forcing my characters to do what I wanted. I was the puppeteer, pushing them along and pulling their strings to move in the direction I demanded. I can see it now, but back then, I had no idea. I was seduced, consumed, and enchanted by my plot. How terribly egocentric of me!

Well, hindsight is always 20/20, or so they say ... and I know now I can go back and rewrite the heck out of that story and I may just have something. I plan to, once my WIP is finished, and this time I will let my characters have more control. I've learned a lot about character development since then, not by reading writing guides, but by writing new stories and letting my characters interact--giving them room to come alive.

By the way, I'm literally two chapters aways from finishing my WIP (the NaNo project formerly known as Sapphire.) I did an Amazon search yesterday and learned the title of Sapphire is already taken. So I've got some new ideas in the works. No big deal. This one has been a really tough one to name.

I'm looking forward to revisions all next month and hopefully queries in January. I'm hoping to make February my NaNoQuerMo month (idea stolen from Tracy at Forever Endeavor) an anyone who thinks they'd like to join me in my query endeavor just let me know and we can make it a joint effort!

Also, sidenote, there's still time to enter my GIVEAWAY. In order to qualify you must leave a comment in that post. Old followers get an automatic double entry into the pot.

So tell me, my friends, are you or were you ever a puppeteer? Come on, fess up ... we all have our writing faux pas along our path. If not a puppeteer, what mistakes are you guilty of and how have you learned from them?


The Golden Eagle said...

Well, I'm still writing, so I haven't had the chance to completely look back . . . but I think I'm guilty of making the characters to some unrealistic things. When I'm writing, I sometimes have trouble keeping things true to the characters, along with true to life.

Quinn said...

This is why I haven't really started writing my current project. I can't get the plot right. The original idea was kind of unrealistic and I was trying to force it.

So now I'm stepping back and focusing on the characters. Since I came up with the idea, I've had a clear idea of my characters. But now, I'm really trying to listen to them and see what they want to do, so I can figure out a natural realistic (or as close to realistic as I can get when I'm dealing with teenaged sex demons) plot.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think in my outlines, there are hints of puppeteering. But I tend to focus on the characters before the plot, so it's subtle. Then as I write, the character's behavior changes the outline and flow of the story naturally. If I can see where I want them to go, but no amount of retooling the scenes or story will get them there, then I scrap that direction.

Norma Beishir said...

With my early novels, I was more concerned with plot than I was with characterization. I tried to be a puppeteer. Sometimes, I succeeded. But I've found with each book, the characters become more and more unruly...I've finally learned to let go and give them control.

T C Mckee said...

Yep! I've been a puppeteer too. I was completely focused on plot rather than my characters and I had to go back and let them be who they were a little more. I ended up deleting a few chapters and just starting over, but I love the way it feels now. Great post, I can totally relate. I think I'm going to order that book.

Pk Hrezo said...

Awesome feedack, guys! I knew I couldn't be the only one! ;)

JEFritz said...

Hm. I suppose I could have but for some reason, it's hard for me to judge it. Which probably means I'm blatantly guilty of puppetry. Good luck with NaNoQuerMo :)

William Kendall said...

I've got the occasional hint of puppeteering.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

My writing flaws lie mainly in pointless scenes/actions. Usually, to get out of writer's block, I depend on the characters to lead the way! As long as I know roughly what I want in the story and what the end will be, I just let them take over and do things their way-it is, after all, their story. ;)

Kristen Hilty said...

I have read Bird by Bird. I would also say without hesitation that her book gave me the confidence to write.

I shared the exact same observation with a critique friend, about the characters coming first for Lamott. My friend told me Barabara Kingsolver had an opposite approach. She said if a character wasn't following her plot she would fire the character and hire a new one!

Although I tend to be a puppeteer, I think I'm starting to lean toward Lamott on this one. Especially with kid lit. The characters really have to be sparkly to catch a publisher's eye.

Good post!


I guess it's good to have a strong plot but remain flexible to whatever comes up along the way. Thank goodness writers can just revise on pen and paper, rather than film's expensive machineries that don't allow for improvisation.

And I loove Bird by Bird. One of the first books on writing I've ever read, and useful not just for its insights, but for Lammott's delicious generosity of spirit and beautiful soul.

Dominic de Mattos said...

Hi! I found my way here from Madeleine's blog - nice to meet you!

I think I was about to be the world's worst puppeteer with my project currently at outline stage. Fortunately a number of excellent blogs opened my eyes to the sin I was about to commit and that I'm naturally plot driven.

I must go look up bird by bird! Thanks for the tip.