Reading e-books before bed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tour Stop: Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams


Some Thoughts on Plotting
by Michael Williams

The craft of plotting is not easy for me. It’s not that I can’t do it, mind you, but that of all the things a novelist is asked to do, plotting is the most challenging, the black hole of my worries and alarms. I envy those writers who can wire a plot together so that event causes event in a cascade of incidents, kind of like the old Mousetrap board game in which players construct this far-fetched, Rube Goldberg machine that goes through all its chutes and gears and catapults to drop a cage on their opponents’ playing piece. I love plots like that, like Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale” or Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But I have the damndest time doing a neat, causal narrative. Characters, dialogue, a passable prose style, making the scenes concrete and vivid—these are things I hope and believe I do better now than I did almost twenty-five years ago, when I wrote my first novel, Weasel’s Luck, in a kind of delirious on-the-job training. Now, a quarter of a century older and somewhat more savvy, I still don’t have this plot thing figured.

The craft of plotting is not easy for me. It’s not that I can’t do it, mind you, but that of all the things a novelist is asked to do, plotting is the most challenging, the black hole of my worries and alarms. I envy those writers who can wire a plot together so that event causes event in a cascade of incidents, kind of like the old Mousetrap board game in which players construct this far-fetched, Rube Goldberg machine that goes through all its chutes and gears and catapults to drop a cage on their opponents’ playing piece. I love plots like that, like Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale” or Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But I have the damndest time doing a neat, causal narrative. Characters, dialogue, a passable prose style, making the scenes concrete and vivid—these are things I hope and believe I do better now than I did almost twenty-five years ago, when I wrote my first novel, Weasel’s Luck, in a kind of delirious on-the-job training. Now, a quarter of a century older and somewhat more savvy, I still don’t have this plot thing figured.

So these things—things that have availed me before—are things that I returned to in Vine, the book I’m presenting to you today. Any one of them is a technique that is enough to support a passable plot, and if you’re better at causal plotting than I am, perhaps any of these techniques might stand as an embellishment, an anchoring—something to make that plot more solid. Here are the things I used. You may have heard other writers talk about them, or you may not. But believe me, they all work in some way, because they are able to summon the cause-and-effect gods out of the most associative minds:
  1. A simple map from character. If you’re good at characterization, start with your principal character. Most plotting advice tells you to consider what he or she wants more than anything in the world. You hear that advice often, because it’s good: it galvanizes the character’s motive and action. But there needs to be something in the personality of the character—some strength or weakness—that has helped to choose that most important desire over other desires that the character might have. It doesn’t always happen so in real life; often people want things for arbitrary, inexplicable reasons. But in fiction, it’s always better if the yearning rises out of a need to fulfill, to attain, or compensate. In light of this, the character’s weakness should also reflect his strength: a kind of physical bravery might also involve a “bull-in-the-china-shop” mentality, for example. When you can make that strength and weakness dwell together, impelling or frustrating the character as he heads for his goal, all kinds of plot possibilities open up.
  2. If you have your characters. their settings, their basic motivations…make it fun for yourself. What are some cool things you want them to do? Let the cool scenes precede ordering those scenes; let them suggest the plot, which is sometimes only the act of getting from one cool scene to another. It sounds simple, but what it involves is a trust in the characters you’ve created: if they’re plausible characters, they’ll suggest to you plausible things to do, or plausible ways for you to get them to do those things.
  3. Steal a plot. I stole Euripides’ Bacchae. He’s dead, so he won’t ask for it back, and the very act of setting it in the 21st century involved having to change some of the particular details, which in turn suggested slightly different connections, slightly different motives, and slightly different outcomes. The Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is famously based on The Odyssey, but if you look for the old poem’s sequence, an event-by-event correspondence, you’ll be out of luck, because 1930s Mississippi takes over in the plotting, and while it still contains the old Odyssey structure, Oh Brother is dressed up differently, and (I think) fresh in how it adapts Homer.
Those were my big 3 plotting strategies in Vine. Look for them when you read the book, if you want. But settle into the story, if you like: if these strategies have done their job, you’ll be swept along by the telling.

***



Title: Vine: An Urban Legend
Author: Michael Williams
Genre: Mythic Fiction
192 pages
Vine: An Urban Legend

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces. Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.




Author Bio
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.

Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.

He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.

Links
Michael Williams Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/michael.williams.33046
Michael Williams Blog: http://michaellwilliams.blogspot.com/

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