Friday, May 13, 2011

Fledgling Writer

My daughter likes to write. She's got a dozen or so notebooks with the beginnings and bits of stories. She reads like a fiend, and her work reflects her reading passions.

She's run into the same problems all writers do, that dreaded "what now?" wall. A general idea will come to her, she'll spend some time on character names and know the bare bones premise of what she wants to happen. But the details will elude her. She manages a scene or two and then finds herself at a complete standstill, story-wise. She's not at the no plot, no problem level, she's more at the no plot, no idea stage.

I've suggested some of my favorite strategies for getting un-stuck. Things like playing the what-if game, or pulling out a blank piece of paper and creating a brainstorming web. I explained to her the difference between pantsers and outliners and that while I have no doubt many amazing stories come out of the I don't know what happens until it happens approach, I personally need at least a rudimentary road map of where I want my story to go. She agreed and created note pages for "Beginning", "Middle" and "End". Problem is, she has no idea what to put on any of these pristine pages. She's stumped. Beyond knowing that she wants to introduce her characters and have them end up happily ever after in some fashion, there is a vast, empty void between those two points. Welcome to the wonderful world of writing.

I've also described to her my idea-generating process. How I usually start with a character that pops up uninvited into my head and maybe a vague idea for a story that would fit that particular person's state in life. Or how the germ of a story idea will come out of a news article I've recently read. Or how I'll hear a song on the radio and it will evoke some specific emotion that I feel compelled to try to capture in story-form. I never have problems with ideas. In fact, my problem lies in too many idea.

But I do get what it's like to struggle with plot. And unfortunately, I don't have any magic bullet solutions to give her. She's got to work her way through the process. Figure out what method does it for her. I told her to go back to some of her most favorite stories and study them, break them down and find the bone structure beneath the prose. What caused character A to do this or character B to do that? Who wants what and why can't he/she get it/have it? So what do they do about it? And what happens then? Plotting is both so very simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. Easy to recognize, hard to replicate.

At the very least, my daughter has a giant leg up on me writing-wise - she's only 13 and can spend the next few years burning away the schlock so that by the time she's ready to select a career and perhaps choose to follow writing, she'll be that much farther down the path. I didn't take this crazy hobby seriously until I was well past 30, and I still have plenty of schlock on the woodpile. I hope she sticks with it. I think she has talent.

And I can't wait to see what happens next.

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