#FixYourNovel #6: Theme and Plot

My “writing blog” has turned into more of a “reading blog.” It’s my intention to strike a pleasant balance between the two. The purpose of my blog from the beginning has been to give you a way to follow my journey as a writer. A writer needs to read books by other people, and I hope you enjoy learning about the books I read.

I’ve made a conscious effort this month to spend more time writing and less time reading. As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’m working my way through C.S. Lakin’s The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction Workbook: Your Blueprint for Building a Solid Story. It has been a tremendous help to me in evaluating various aspects of my 85,000-word novel manuscript. I’m not getting paid to sing the praises of this workbook. When I find a book or workbook about the craft of writing fiction that is helpful to me, I’m happy to share that information with my blog readers.

The things I concentrated on since last week’s blog post are theme, plot, and subplot. Hence, the title of today’s post. I have been sporadic in posting my #FixYourNovel blog series. I had planned for the sixth one to be about point-of-view. I don’t feel comfortable writing authoritatively in any way, shape, or form about that subject yet.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

The dreaded question: What’s your book about?

The most dreaded question authors receive is “What’s your book about?” You’ve spent months or years creating a complex story of 85,000 to 120,000 words, and you’re expected to state off the top of your head a one sentence answer to that question. Yikes! I’m still working on my answer to that question, but Ms. Lakin’s workbook questions have helped me sharpen a concise description of my book.

The section of the workbook that addresses theme helped me determine that my book’s main theme is forgiveness. To do that, I had to figure out what the book is about.

My initial answer to that question tends to be something like this:  It’s about a pregnant widow accused of her husband’s murder setting out to prove her innocence. But that’s not what the book is “about.” That’s the main plot, and the plot is a vehicle to convey theme.

Theme gets at the heart of what the main characters wants. My protagonist wants a happy family life. That’s a fairly universal desire. In order to achieve that, she will have to ask someone for forgiveness and she will have to forgive many others for their wrongs committed against her. It’s a southern historical novel set in the Carolina backcountry in 1769-1770.

The workbook has helped me brainstorm some parts of the plot that were lackluster, and I’ve worked to strengthen those weak links. When I get some key edits completed, I’ll adjust my scenic plot or step outline to reflect those changes. The next step then will be to get that outline critiqued by a writing professional.

That’s where things stand now with my manuscript with the working title of either The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin.

Since my last blog post

I’ve walked more, as I continue to get my fractured leg back to normal. I’ve done some “spring cleaning” that I wasn’t physically able to do in the spring. Better late than never. I’ve done some reading. I’ve spent many hours working on my manuscript, and that includes a considerable amount of time spent thinking.

Like you, I continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic on a daily basis. Here in North Carolina, our “Safer at Home” Phase 2 Order was extended five more weeks. This is the second time Phase 2 has been extended. In the absence of a national plan, each US state and territory is making its own rules. No wonder the virus is not under control in the US.

The M5.1 earthquake 100 miles from me on August 9 has me wondering if I need to add earthquake coverage to my homeowner’s insurance. It’s not something North Carolinians have had to seriously consider until now.

After giving Friends and Fiction on Facebook a plug last Monday, the program on Wednesday night was subpar. It was the first time the guest author used profanity or made vulgar hand gestures. I was embarrassed that I had recommended the program. Here’s hoping the one this Wednesday at 7pm EDT will be better.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I have several books vying for my attention.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask. It’s not a sacrifice in the big scheme of things.

Janet

How to Recapture the Joy of Writing

If you read my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/, you know that I was considering giving up my ambition of writing and publishing a novel.

After much prayer, soul searching, reading some blogs and articles about writing – as well as reading many encouraging comments from my blog readers – I have decided to recommit to writing my southern historical novel.

Working title: The Spanish Coin OR The Doubloon

The working title of my book is The Spanish Coin, which refers to a gold Spanish coin – a doubloon – that shows up in a Carolina backcountry community in the 1760s. There is a murder, after which the coin is missing. Is there anyone in the small community who is not a viable suspect?

That’s the story I’ve been working on off and on for more than 10 years. I’m not getting any younger, so I’d really like to finish writing it. I would also love to get it published. That’s why I wanted to recapture my joy of writing.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards

Several hours after posting my blog on December 17, 2018, I read an article that was just what I needed. The link to “How to Restore Your Love of Writing” is https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/how-to-restore-your-love-of-writing/. The article was written by Colleen M. Story, and it addressed much of the problem I wrote about on December 17, 2018.

In her blog post, Ms. Story explains that there are two kind of rewards writers seek: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic refers to the rewards the world gives us, while intrinsic refers to the rewards we get from within ourselves.

First, I needed to discern which type of rewards I wanted. Ms. Story offered several questions that I asked myself. Those questions led me to conclude that money would be great, but that’s not what is driving me. It is a sense of accomplishment that I seek.

What led me to start writing in the first place? It wasn’t money. Those who think, “I’ll be a writer and get rich” are setting themselves up for crushing disappointment. Some writers make the big bucks, but they are the exception.

What led me to start writing was an innate desire to put my thoughts on paper. I kept journals as a teenager and sporadically as an adult. I took a creative writing class in high school, but I never considered writing as a possible career.

Another blog post I found helpful

Several days later, I read the December 19, 2018 Writers in the Storm blog post:  https://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/12/top-10-writing-success-tips-from-ray-bradbury/. In it, Jenny Hansen lists her 10 favorite writing success tips from author Ray Bradbury. The five that resonated with me were the following:

            Do the work.

            Do what you love.

            Embrace your emotions.

            Read.

            Get out of your own way.

And, of course, my blog readers inspired me

I received a number of comments about my December 17, 2018 blog post, and I took encouragement from each one of you.

Since my last blog post

I have started writing a short story set in colonial America. I’d like to publish a book of short stories set in colonial America – my favorite place and time in history.

Until my next blog post

I’ll try to take Ray Bradbury’s advice and get out of my own way.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, by Alan Alda.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, by Alan Alda

If you’re a writer, I hope you know why you’re writing. I hope writing gives you joy.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you ever lost the joy you once had for an artistic endeavor, a favorite hobby or pastime, or your once much-enjoyed career? How were you able to recapture that joy?

Janet