Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You already know - Plot - A la Mary Kole

Last Monday, I mentioned the Mary Kole Agent Day event that I attended in Tokyo (Yokohoma, Kanagawa if we're being technical). I also mentioned 5 things I learned. Today, I'm talking about thing 2: You probably already know the answer to your question. And there will be follow-up posts on this as well.

I'm not going to get into much about what Ms Kole said in my one-on-one critique. Something about that doesn't feel quite kosher. But there is one thing she said that I feel I can share.

I went into the critique excited. I couldn't wait to find out what THE Mary Kole thought about my work. But then she made a comment and I had to restrain myself from laughing. Not because I thought she was wrong. Or because I'd finally snapped. Because I've got that very same critique at SCBWI creative exchanges. And I make that same critique of my work myself. In fact, I make it so often, that some of you may know my fatal flaw without having ever seen my work. And I don't suppose THE Mary Kole would be worth her sauce if she couldn't pick up on what everybody and their dog has already noticed.

My characters are real. My voice is well-defined (and occasionally overbearing). But even a team made up of Sherlock Holmes, the KGB, the CIA, Angela Landsbury, Scooby Doo, Miss Marple and Encyclopedia Brown couldn't find my plot. Yes, it's that bad.

(My words, not hers, or my SCBWI colleagues'.) 

As she spoke, I just nodded, because I was being a good little critiquee. But I couldn't help thinking, "I came here for this?" Here was this incredible opportunity to present my work and hear from the other side of the desk. One of my critique partners just signed with her agent through a face to face event. And I don't delude myself that I'm anywhere near query stage. You guys know that. It's just that this was a massive opportunity. And I wasted it.

The lesson to be learnt here is that if we sit and contemplate, we may already know where our issues lie.  It would profit us more to fix the things we can fix on our own and to ask for help when neccesary. In critiquing, and of course in life, we should be presenting our best wherever possible. Putting forward a product that in our mind has no flaws.

There's a central tenet of learning (both knowledge and skill acquisition) that many people forget or ignore:

The student has to play an active role. 

We have to take ourselves to a certain level before the teacher/expert/sempai can take us any further.

I know what is wrong with my stories. I know that I need to find a way to fix it. I am going to my best to get that sorted out before I move forward. Anything else is a waste of time. Opportunities are all around, and I don't want to keep throwing them out the window.

Do you know what's wrong in your writing? Have you tried to fix it? Are you past the point that you can do it on your own? Have you tried peer or professional critiquing?

*Sempai is a Japanese word, meaning senior, literally ahead of colleage(s)


Sophia said...

Like you, plot is my downfall. That's why I'm brainstorming before I start writing, coming up with possible scenes on index cards and, eventually, putting together Blake Snyder's 15 point beat sheet. Plot doesn't come naturally to me (or not lots of viable/interesting plot points) so I'm doing it now before I write thousands of words that aren't going anywhere. Reading craft books (Plot & Structure, Save the Cat) and Janice Hardy's blog are definitely helping.

Anonymous said...

I've experienced the same... except not with professional critics. I once presented a short story in a competition in which readers vote, and voice their opinion with much honesty (sometimes harshness). To prepare myself, I thought: what comments can I expect about this story? And when the time came for people to read and critique it, they more or less said what I had found out myself...

In my case, there was a plot, but it went in a lot of directions in a short time (the problem with short stories), and people weren't sure where the hero stood anymore because he seemed to change his mind too much.

Right now with my NaNo project, I feel I have a tendency to digress and ramble, but the wordcount pressure doesn't help! LOL

Rida said...

Yeah, my plot always ends up completely weird, so I started outlining, and it does help a whole lot.

Raindrop Reflections

Unknown said...

Hearing things you already know is never a bad think, it means you're smart enough to see the truth in your writing.

I also sometimes struggle with plot (or lack there of). One writer friend of mine gave me the advice, put your characters in trees and then throw rocks at them. If you're writing great characters, horray. Now all you have to do is come up with the worst possible situation for them and write there way out of it.

It's easier said then done, but you'll get there. I have faith.