Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, November 01, 2004

3. How to write a first draft novel in two thirds less time with pleasure. Plot

Plot is a mechanism for arousing your reader's "storydars", their radars for narrative. Plot does not have to please, it just has to convey the story.

E M Forster has a charming way of explaining the difference between a plot and a story. A plot is this:

The king died, then the queen died.

Dry, factual, and effective. And a story is this:

The king died, and then the queen died of grief.

And those two words, "of grief", are loaded with implication. They imply drama: the queen outliving her king. They imply causation and necessity: the queen dies because she cannot live any longer. And they imply her character: the queen loved the king more than her life. So here we have a story.

It is helpful to think of story and plot as two triangles. The premise you have just written will have three angles to it: it happens somewhere, it happens to someone, and they do something. So imagine that as a upside down triangle.

Now take the plot: it has a start, developments, and a conclusion. Visualise that as a rightway up triangle, and in combining them both you have a classical symmetry.

In Indian culture this symbol is called the Yubyam, and it is a symbol of alchemical fusion of contrary forces together, and regarded as a sign of power. The upright triangle is regarded as the masculine aspect, a phallic image of expressive power and vigor, while the downwards triangle is the female, image of the vagina, receptive grace, beauty, sensitivity, and the power to create life.

Perhaps the most vigorous expression of this fundemental form of human consciousness is in the Tibetian word, Vajra. Varja means "having a head made of diamond". When you read great works of literature, you will notice about them that they have a certain quality of unity, as if they had crystallized, diamond-like, from within their creator. The magical spell of great books such as Anna Karenina, if examined, is a mystery that arises directly from the cystalline and rigorous structure that is imposed, insivible to average readers, onto the text.

Vajra denotes the kind of hard headedness required to create a classic normally. But by generating this form right at the beginning, so much grief and difficulty in creating such a thing is simply elimiated. So creating a good plot to suit your premise is a cause for joy and pleasure. All this may be kept in mind when crafting a decent plot structure.

Now, here is my suggestion on how to do it:

Simply expand the premise into five to ten sentences. In doing so, look for disasters that occur to your character. Write about what happens, not what is thought or felt, not about the environment or the supporting characters. Write a police report, stiking only to the known facts of your premise.

Now, a warning: a plot is just a mechanism for producing recognition of a story in the reader's mind. It serves absolutely no other purpose but to serve the reader in reading your story. So the plot basically belongs to the reader: just as you require supports to write the story, so the reader needs a strong plot to support them in completing the novel.

Many writers feel that if their story is good readers will enjoy reading them. This is true. But it is also true that if their plot is good, more readers are likely to finish reading the book. If the plot is not strong, readers will feel confused, then within five pages become bored and stop reading. If you are writing for yourself or an audience that cannot escape such as your family, then feel free to discard this step in good faith that doing so will help increase your domination of their time and energy.

The first sentence will begin much like the premise does:

A rougue scientest flees his country after a biotech war leads to a totalitarian revolution.

This is disaster number one for my novel, Return To Gaia. Sentence two is:

He builds a computer, Gaia, to manage earth's environment which turns against humanity and kills billions.

Disaster number two.

Many years later, his son tries to destroy the computer and fails, losing his beloved in the process.

Disaster number three. Now, then, the resolution:

Realising the son's grief, the computer Gaia becomes sentient, absorbs his beloved's mind into hers as her personality, and tells him that his father lives and in the meantime has return to the country he fled and returned it to civilsation and freedom. Gaia regrets harming humanity, and now wants to aid them.

Now that comes in at exactly five sentences, and it is as a result of some months of fairly aimless working and writing. It is astonishing that I could have achieved the same result (and have!) in only two days of reflection and writing.

Now, these incidents are just that: incidental extensions of the seed idea, tiny feelings groping in the dark for moisture, nutrients and light. If they are to grow, they will need the light of more reflection, and the nourishment of a bit of fun, excitement and joy.

It is also possible that your hopes at germinating your seed premise are not fulfilled. The feelers of plot grow then die. The sense of excitement grows dim. This is wonderful news, because it means you have only spent two days and already figured out that your novel is a dud.

Congratulations! You are in the elite corpus of writers who do not need to spend 6 months slugging away at a first draft, getting half way or worse to the end, then realising to their horror and grief that they have a flawed diamond, or a lump of coal, in their work.

As with a growing seed, some feelers will live and others will die. It is important to recognise that your plot is only a machine for growing your novel into something a reader will finish reading.

After you have written your five to ten sentences, go ring that writer friend again and share your developments with him. He should be saying good things, suffice to say, and your short plot should trigger his readerly response of "Tell me more?"

This step, as before, is absolutely crucial. Reflection without action powerless pedantry. Do the thing and claim the power. Ring and read a friend.

"If this sounds suspiciously like back-cover copy, it's because . . . that's what it is and that's where it's going to appear someday."
- Randall Ingermanson


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