how to figure out a plot problem



I’ve been having a little conversation with my undermind.

The book isn’t working. Should I throw this part out and start again?

It’s not that I’m eager to trash sixty pages. But there’s something appealing about looping back to the beginning: fresh slate, new possibilities.

Undermind sends up the feeling:

No. There’s a problem here, but I can’t run away from it. I need to figure it out and make it work.

To continue this discussion, I lie down. Since one of the benefits of my recent divorce is that I could change the master bedroom into a lofty sleep/work area (there’s a big platform bed, a zebrawood desk, some stuff on the walls, the built-in bookcases, and nothing else) my bed and desk are a convenient distance from each other.

I close my eyes and relax. My goal is to make my conscious mind shut up. The conscious mind presents itself as so much more rational than it is. It’s talking, talking, talking. It’s like a PR person trying to spin all this half-assed information so that it can sell the rest of you on what it wants, or thinks it wants, or thinks it should want, or was told it should want growing up.

It means well but is somewhat misguided, and too quick to believe its own hype.

It should not be entirely trusted.

I slip somewhere between sleeping and waking, and let myself drift for a while.

This is the country of the undermind.

There is no talking here. There is no language at all. The undermind communicates through feeling, hunches and dream.

Everything you know gets stored in the undermind. It records everything. It remembers everything. It knows so much more than the rest of you.

you rang? and no, I won't get you coffee.

I brought some questions along for it to ponder. Do I have too many characters?

Of course I have too many characters, and Caroline in particular is getting in the way.

Still, the undermind wants to keep most of the cast. The number of characters isn’t the problem, so long as I focus correctly.

I ask: Whose story is it, really? Is it Gabe’s story or the dancer’s story? Or even Lee’s story?

The undermind answers by nudging me to a different question: Who changes the most?

Okay, that’s easy. Gabe is the character who transforms the most. So it’s his story, even if the dancer’s point of view is bigger than I initially realized and plays a more prominent role.

Part of the problem, I realize now, is Lee. She’s framing and telling the story as well as participating in it. But she shouldn’t be participating so much. I need to keep her at the edges of the action: she is observer-participant-narrator, she is not the star. Sorry, Lee.

So should I forget the whole observer-participant thing and just tell the book in third person?

Undermind sends up a negative.

I have to reduce Lee’s role and keep the transitions crisp and clean — maybe experiment with shorter chapters — but the story will lose something if she’s not the one who’s ‘telling’ it.

And suddenly I realize: everything I’ve written so far happened over a year ago.

It’s like the undermind ran me into a tree: the idea is that blunt and forceful.

But the narrative falls into place. The events with the dancer and Gabe and his ex-girlfriend Caroline (or was she his wife? not sure yet), the dancer’s fugue state and enigmatic exchanges with Gabe, her sudden disappearance, Gabe’s search for her in the clubs along Sunset, Hollywood and Vine — all that happened a year before the next section in the narrative. I’ll just make a jump cut from one time period to the other and establish that Gabe never found her. And when she does show up again she claims not to recognize him or remember their encounter (and maybe she looks different enough that he’s not even sure it’s her). Which would allow me to have their relationship restart at a slightly different point so it can unfold the way I want.

And: I can get rid of Caroline. Put her in Europe or on the other side of the country: she can drop by for visits, that’s fine, she might prove useful that way.

And Lee is already through the drama of her divorce, so that won’t be a distraction, and involved with a new life (perhaps new relationship?) that puts her at the edges of the narrative instead of so near the center.

Okay, cool. I think that could work.

Thank you undermind.

It doesn’t bother to respond.

Nov 4, 2009

3 comments · Add Yours

i just wanted to say i’ve been really enjoying what you write here as well as on lj, and because i hate having to go to 20 different sites a day to see if there are new posts, i’ve created an lj rss feed for your wordpress at (one of the benefits of having a permanent account is being able to do that endlessly); feel free to share that or not, your call

anyway – thank you for sharing your words and ideas and processes; i have yet to read any of your books (unemployed, not terribly well & broke) but my friend allison tells me they’re excellent and i’m planning on spending the inevitable (in a good way) xmas presents of barnes & noble gift cards on some of your work


ok html fail – the lj feed is lj user=justine_musk – sorry about that


thank you, I really appreciate that.

if you want to check out my stuff, there’s a 147 page excerpt of Bloodangel over here:

plus I want to start experimenting with free online serial fiction soon

fiction (some fiction) wants to be free :)


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