Weekly Bookstore Jamboree – Week 5: Anatomy of a Write-In November 2, 2008Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
Bookstores visited: Borders on Cobb Parkway in Smyrna
What I bought: a chai latte
What other people bought: I didn’t get to observe the checkout area, but I did get to see a lot of other people buying coffee. And by “coffee,” I mean, of course, French vanilla lattes and mochas and cappuccinos and such.
What I looked at: Mostly, I was there for a NaNoWriMo meet-and-greet / unofficial write-in, rather than to look at books. What’s a write-in, you ask? Basically, it’s a NaNoWriMo-invented event wherein a bunch of crazed novelists gather at a particular spot and write fiction in the presence of each other’s tacit support. Occasionally, there’s a word war: everyone tries to write as many words as they can within, say, fifteen minutes. Since this meet-up took place before NaNoWriMo began, no one was doing a frantic first draft, so there was no cause for a word war. I worked (slowly) on a strange flash fiction piece about a dead dentist, as well as a YA short story called “The Understated Unraveling of Mercedes Moreno.”
We did grab a few books from the writing reference section: the obligatory copies of the NaNoWriMo handbook No Plot? No Problem, as well as Robert McKee’s Story and Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! I mentioned both of those in my last post, didn’t I? They’re about screenwriting, but more specifically, they’re about the plot backbones of stories that work. I generally suck at creating good, working plot backbones. Even in the case of “The Understated Unraveling of Mercedes Moreno,” I’ve got three central characters, an opening conflict, and a foggy idea of the story’s goal. As usual, the characters have come to me fully-formed (which isn’t hard, as I’ve been writing about Mercedes, her sister, and the other people in her life for years and years), but the direction in which the story will go has yet to be determined.
That’s my usual operating mode for writing fiction: the characters come first, and then either a theme or a conflict will emerge. How I go about dramatizing that theme or conflict is dealt with eventually. I’m not ashamed of this method, although it does make for slow going in terms of finishing anything. I think it’s also why I took an unintended break from fiction writing for a long time in college and into my early twenties — when I was younger, I felt it was okay to play around on the page with characters and undramatic situations (e.g., I once wrote an entire “story” composed of scenes of different characters waking up. How did one character’s typical morning differ from another character’s typical morning? I found it fascinating). Years later, I decided I didn’t want to write such aimless fiction anymore, but when I realized I didn’t know how to take my fiction from aimless to, uh, aimful, I just quit. I switched my focus to writing for my website, and didn’t look back for many years.
How I got back to fiction, and how I braved the territory of real plots for the first time, is a post for another day.
For reference about plotting, though, Save The Cat! author (and fellow WordPress user) Blake Snyder has a recent blog post about finding the “spine” of your story.
What other people looked at: A lot of people come to Borders on Sunday morning to sit in the coffee shop area and read magazines. Who knew? Others were doing work on their laptops. Someone was reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
The Cobb Parkway Borders is a very strange place: if you take the first right into the maze of shopping center, as I did, you wind up on the bottom floor of a parking garage, with no way to drive up to the second floor. It looked like a good place to get one’s car broken into. Some bits of glass near the stairway were strong evidence for this theory. I parked anyway, figuring there were enough other people trickling in to divert any thieves’ attention from my wee Nissan. I took the stairs to the Borders entrance, where shoppers are greeted with a bin of bargain books and a tall escalator. Everything else – the non-bargain books, the coffee shop, the checkout – is on the second floor. Like the shopping center as a whole, the second floor is a maze. I gave up looking for the YA section. The coffee shop area is pretty great, though, and it includes an expansive patio.