Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Writing – Plot

Yes, I’m reaching the plot now. And I think I am now completely in love with this book. Damn you, Anne Lamott, why you wrote such a good book?

“Plot is the main story of your book or short story.” ~p. 54

“Plot grows out of character.”  ~p. 54

“I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about the characters.” ~p. 54

I sure underlined the very last sentence many, many times.

Because I think this is where the reading just gave me a massive blow.

“The development of relationship creates plot.” ~p. 55

I never thought of that before.

Most of the time I worry more about the plot instead of the characters. Sure I worry about them as well, but more like how I’m gonna put them and how they should interact in order to fit this scheme of plot that I had in mind. Meanwhile, this book just told me, if not instructed, that I should actually do it in another way: think about your characters first, later you would get the plot you wanted.

Now this is new to me.

Sigh. Guess this shows how beginner I am, eh?

“Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake.” ~p. 55

Right. Got that. Noted. I knew that.

Most of the times, the more I personalize my character, the more I’d be able to distinguish their character. And of course, just like the random stories that I  just started, I’m still learning to observe more, and tried to transform my boring every day life into a short story (with changes here and there, of course. My random stories are, after all, fiction). So these days, I learn to make my characters adapted from people that I met every day. People who I used to know. Childhood friends. Best friends. Relatives. Etc, etc.

Because it’s the easiest way to do it.

“This is how it works for me: I sit down in the morning and reread the work I did the day before. And then I wool-gather, staring at the blank page or off into the space. I imagine my characters, and let myselft daydream about them. A movie begins to play in my head.” ~p. 56

I chuckled when I read that sentences because I did a similar thing, although not in an exact way.

Well, frankly speaking, I haven’t really find my working pattern or rhythm. At least, not specifically, especially since I wrote here that I was taken and tortured into one sleepless night before I finally able to write my prologue because Mr. Inspiration decided to visit me so late.

But there was this one time, where I would have an odd ritual in order to put me to sleep: I would imagine a character, and then a plot, and there there would be this movie playing in my head.

This became a habit for quite some time and I think this imagination had become worse, as I reached a stage where I would always need to play this movie in my head in order to put me to sleep.

I had this one specific story that have been bugging and wandering in my mind for years and it had to be that story.

It was first inspired by Legolas Greenleaf, the handsome and charming elf from The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. When I was in high school I was so much bewitched by Orlando Bloom’s Legolas that I was imagining that Legolas should also have a wife. A family.

Really, who could resist such a face?

Truthfully speaking, I don’t really follow the story of the trilogy, which makes me wondering whether Tolkien had already created a wife for Legolas or not.

Even if he already did, I still imagine this elf-girl who would someday become Legolas’ spouse.

What I first imagine was, of course, that Legolas is a prince of Mirkwood (he is, right?), and that he ruled that wood peacefully and everything. But ever since the journey that he did in order to destroy the ring and all in the trilogy, he became close friend with Gimli the Dwarf. Of course, we all knew that.

The thing is, we had this background knowledge that elf and dwarf tend to not live peacefully side by side. Hence, with his close friendship with a dwarf, some of his people (of Mirkwood, supposedly) opposed him and began to question his authority as a leader and a ruler of Mirkwood.

Then this girl would show up: a noble elf-girl, who hated the Dwarves so bad up to the point of hating Legolas himself because he’s a close friend with this hateful creatures.

And then this girl–hmmm, let’s call her Z for now–so Z, one day, planned a bad plan: kill the Prince of Mirkwood, because she thought that Legolas is no longer worthy of his throne and position as a prince.

But the Prince’s bodyguard caught her.

As his advisor suggested that they killed her, Legolas, with his compassionate character, decided not to, and instead, trying to have a discussion with Z–trying to understand why she wanted to kill him and why she hated the Dwarves so bad. Can’t old enemies just be friends and stop this foolish hatred? So he tried to convince the girl and make her understand that Dwarves are not enemies.

He tried to put this idea of compassion and peace to this girl as he tried to promote peace on earth (or middle-earth).

Well, you don’t wanna hear what happened next. The usual boring stuff, cheesy romance and all.

But anyway, I would usually need to play this in my head before I finally able to go to sleep.

I don’t stare on any blank page. Instead, I would close my eyes (I was trying to sleep, remember?) and just let the story flow.

Then, night by night, the plot would be improvised, as well as improved. The irrelevant plot would be relevant, the weird scenes would become unweird and all. Simplified: I would revise my plot night by night, as I would play this movie in my head.

Wait, are you still with me? Or are you running away and freaking out already of this weird nerd creature?

“John Gardner wrote that the writer is creating a dream into which he or she invites the reader, and that the dream must be vivid and continuous.” ~p. 57

Oh, very well put, sir. Couldn’t have expressed it in any other way. Well put.

I love dreaming. In fact, I used to get scolded when I was a kid, both in school and at home, because I tend to daydream a lot. And mostly not at the right time (meaning study time, listening to the teacher time, dinner time, lunch time, etc, etc).

And of course, I also tried to expressed it very obviously that as much as I love dreams, I hate them as well. Why? Because most of the time, they tend to be very unrealistic.

But I was rambling again.

“Drama is  the way of holding the reader’s attention.” ~p. 59

My mind jumped into Indonesian soap operas (or what we call as ‘Sinetron’) right away.

I love dreams. But I hate dramas. A lot.

But maybe that’s because I was imagining Indonesian soap operas.

The irony is that, I realize though, drama is indeed what most people are looking for in a story. I guess that’s why 90210 is very popular (sorry 90210 fans. I’m actually a fan as well, you know. …of Matt Lanter and Trevor Donovan, of course), as well as Grey’s Anatomy (I love medical TV series, but I hate the dramas) and Gossip Girl (I love Chace Crawford, though).

But even my most favorite TV shows with the most logical and rational main characters such as Gregory House and Dr. Temperance Brennan also have dramas.

Remember the scene where House was driving his car madly toward Cuddy’s house? Drama.

And ironic parts where Booth was in love with Brennan but apparently Brennan didn’t feel the same way, then when Brennan finally realized that she loved Booth, he was already in a relationship with Hannah? Drama.

Well, as much as I hate it, probably it’s one thing that makes me so fond of those two TV series. I sure was very impatient waiting for the seventh season of Bones because of the very last episode, which really annoys me. Who ends a season with a statement, “I’m pregnant. You’re the father.” And then Booth smiled happily, then blank. WTF?

I’m currently downloading the first episode of the first series, though, btw. So, yaaaay! Can’t wait to watch it!

“For the climax, there must be a killing or a healing or a domination.” ~p. 61

Sure. My favorite parts of every story, most of the time, because this is where the emotions usually get more and more intense. But to create a logical but attractive climax, is not an easy thing for me. I still got a long journey ahead, and I’m still learning. And learning. And learning. Wish me luck for the climax ahead!

“You may think that you know what this moment contains–and it makes sense to aim for something–but I recommend that you not fix to hard on what it will be. Fix instead on who your people are and how they feel toward one another, what they say, how they smell, whom they fear.” ~p. 61

“So aim but not too hard, and when you finally see the climax forming in front of you, then you can race toward it.” ~p. 62

Tsk. Some instructions on writing and life, indeed, eh? Why do these stuffs sound so difficult? As a perfectionist, I’m gonna be so much stressed out with these instructions.

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Published by

Laksmi

An MA student at Waseda University, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyo, Japan. An avid reader. A language geek as well. And a book hoarder.

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