Tuesday, October 16, 2012


     I have often heard writers say that while they were writing, thinking they were going in one direction, their characters took on a life of their own and insisted on going another way.  I barely believed it, myself....that is until last week.

     There I was, convinced I knew the reason that my character behaved the way she did, when all along she had a secret that she kept from me.  It came out, as a total surprise, in a conversation she was having with her daughter.  It put a whole new slant on her behavior and explained better than I ever could have why she felt guilty and depressed.  (And no, I am not going to reveal it here.  You will have to read the story and be surprised.)

     The thing is, it made the rest of the story flow so much more easily.  I won't say it wrote itself, but I did complete the story quickly, and I like the result.

     I don't think I can force my people to "take over," or reveal a hidden truth. But if I try to really know them, to be true to their lives and their characters it may happen to me again.  I would be very happy with another surprise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Figuring out a Plot Summary

          This week I was assigned to write a plot summary in my novel writing course.  I'd been thinking of the story arc, the map of my book, with birth-dates and marriage-dates and death-dates, but I hadn't thought of a plot summary.  If I'm calling it a novel I guess it should have a plot.

          In my mind the characters intertwine in the stories, which take place over the decades from 1941 through 2012.  Although a story may be about one character, in each we learn about what has happened to some of the others.  Ruby's mental illness impacts her siblings,  her husband, her children throughout the book.  Sam's recklessness causes a rift between his sister and wife, and ultimately the loss of everything.  We see some of the siblings age badly, others well.  Their children and grandchildren are impacted also.  But this is not a plot.

           As a stop-gap I listed the stories I plan to use.  Seeing them on the page, with the names of the characters and their connections to one another, helps me to think of the book as a whole, instead of as individual stories.  I am wondering if the connections are enough, and I am busy reading other books of linked short stories to see how the authors handled the question of plot.  I am looking at recent books, like Molly Ringwald's "When It Happens to You," Elizabth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge," and Amy Bloom's "Where The God of Love Hangs Out."  There are older books too, such as "The Women of Brewster Place," by Gloria Naylor.  I will continue to do research as I complicate my character's lives with more and more conflict.

          And meanwhile, I have a flash fiction story called "Home Visit," published as a Showcase story on the homepage of Echook Digital Publishing.  Go to www.echook.com. and look for my picture.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A private writing retreat

          Last weekend my friend Virginia and I  spent two days, without husbands, kids, grandkids or friends, at my house in the Berkshires, writing, sharing each others morning production, walking, talking, dreaming.  The weather contributed.  It rained on and off all weekend, reducing the temptation to spend all our time outdoors, where the trees were showing off their fall foliage.

          We both got a huge amount done.  Somehow, knowing Virginia was in another room writing away, was an incentive for me to stick to my computer and produce new pages.  I also spread out my "map" of family, dates and stories, and revised it, updating with new information, cutting out characters, changing a few names.

          My novel in linked short stories now has a more complete story arc. I identified three gaps in the arc and began to work on the first story to fill it.  I have renewed energy and excitement for my project and I am moving forward with it.

          And Virginia and I have "penciled in" our next writing retreat.