Saturday, November 17, 2007

Big Plots, Little Plots...

by Christie Kelley

I’m in the middle of writing my second book, which is due in March. Most of my books have a lot of plot with villains and maybe a duel or someone getting killed. And yet, none of that seems to be taking shape in this book. It’s a much more emotional book with a lot of guilt thrown in. But it’s also the hardest book I’ve written.

My February release, Every Night I’m Yours, is a combination of external plot and emotion that I think has a nice balance (my opinion only). I haven’t been able to strike that balance with my unnamed book. It seems much more difficult with this couple. While I’m struggling with this, my critique partner just finished her latest book. We were talking about this topic because she tends to write less external plot and more emotion. She said she loved writing this last book because the plot was bigger.



Striking the balance between external plot and emotion can be difficult to say the least. Some writers have a natural tendency to write big plots with lots of action, while others can write a story with little external plot but huge amounts of emotion.


If you’re a reader, do you have a preference, big plot or little plot but lots of emotion? For the writers, do you write more external plot or emotional plot? Do you think you strike a good balance between the two? Any hints for striking that balance?

30 comments:

Aunty Cindy said...

Okay, this is hardly fair. It's 5:30 PM on the Left Coast.

Cock-A-Doddle-Do?

Joan said...

No, I think if you respond at this time it is the Tin Night Owl :-)

doglady said...

I love both as long as they are GOOD plots! The most important thing to me as a reader is does it unfold like a plot, step by step or does it unfold like a story woven by a storyteller. There IS a difference and I have read some of both. An emotional plot played out in the hearts of the characters can be a more exciting adventure than some thrill ride spy novels.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, still no GR for me??!! What's happening??!!! A GR FOR AUNTY CINDY???!!! Now that's just wrong!

Christie, great post. Having just written the book I call fondly (with all irony intended) the book with no plot, I can completely understand. Does anyone remember the old country song, The Pub With No Beer? Well, there's nothing so lonesome or so full of rot//As the writer who's writing the book with no plot! But our esteemed Madam Wells tells me it's all right and I'm sure she wasn't drinking at the time. I think you just have to listen to your heart with every book and trust your heart isn't making fun of you!

Joan said...

I think each story calls for different emphasis. TPD I think, has more plot; TPF more emotion.

As a reader I want a well balanced flow of both. As a writer I think I do a fair job of achieving that same balance.

I'm sorry, Chrisite that I don't have any magic ways to help with this...my writing tends to be very visceral. I don't (gasp) write down plots or make character grids or anything.

Drives my CP's crazy! :-)

Aunty Cindy said...

TOO BAD, Joanie T and all you DownUnder Banditas! The GR was MINE, and he was delicious with those fava beans and chianti! (hiccup)

Christie, I strive for a balance with plot and emotions too. But I'm afraid it will be up to one of our lovely Libras, like Mme D-W to explain how to achieve said balance.

AC

Portia Da Costa said...

Hi! I followed Anna here from Romance by the Blog... and we think we might have met once, too. :)

I much prefer a smaller plot with masses of emotion and deep characterisation. But then, I would *have* to say that, because I can't plot for toffee myself! LOL

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Portia! Hello! Nice to see you again. We're always shooting the breeze about something or other here so pop back!

DownUnderGirl said...

Good topic, Christie.
As I write category it tends to be very much focused on the emotional.
I know with my ST I've found it challenging to realise I can ease off on the rope a bit and let some more words and bigger plots come in. I can even go off on a tangent.

But as a reader all I can say is whatever works. Have read both types and loved them equally.

Amy

Christie Kelley said...

So my accidental post too early was really a well-formed plot by Aunty Cindy and me to let her have the Golden Roster.

Welcome to the Bandits, Portia.

I'm loving all the comments so far.

Joan said...

Welcome to the lair, Portia! We're always glad to find new friends.

Anna's right...we do have lots of fun conversations on Romance Bandits.

jo robertson said...

I shoulda knowed AC and Christie were steeped in a nefarious plot to control the Golden Rooster.

I like my balance just even, you know, like, balanced :-D I don't like lots of silly, emotional faldaral. I wanted everything understated. And I want a plot, a big plot, a complicated one that is nonetheless resolvable.

Hey, Anna C, remember that little TV show about nothing (Seinfeld)? If your book with no plot works like that little gem, wahooooo!

Keira Soleore said...

Let's put it this way, I haven't read a book that became a wallbanger because of too much emotion and some plot, however, there are books that have become wallbangers because of too much plot and zero emotion.

A storyline is essential to every book, without which there's no book. But whether plot elements shape that line or character shapes that line depends upon the writer and the characters.

One suggestion to help might be to do a storyboard or some other sort of visual big picture of the story. Then you might be able to see where it gets unbalanced and see ways to bring the whole into balance.

Caren Crane said...

Christie, this is a great question. I struggle a bit with the feeling that 'not enough is happening'. I have learned to be okay with whatever does happen and to resist the temptation to throw in more action simply because it feels like more should be going on.

I tend to write long and am floored by writers who can tell a story in, say, 65 -75k words. It boggles my mind! Even without lots of intrigue and fast action, it takes my people a lot of pages to work through their issues. Of course, they are usually carrying quite a load of luggage. *g*

As for reading, I like both sorts of books, but tend to prefer ones where the characters are working through internal issues more, or at the minimum as much as, their external issues. If I wanted lots of action, I would watch a Bourne movie. (mmm....Jason Bourne...)

Christie, I think you have to trust your characters and your sense of the story. Don't worry about 'not enough' or 'too much'. Just tell the story your characters demand and let your editor decide if it isn't 'enough'. I'm sure it will be wonderful!

Anna Campbell said...

Jo, you make me laugh! Which I have to say Seinfeld didn't. I think I'm the only person on the planet who couldn't stand it. I couldn't get over how AWFUL they all were. Yes, I know that was the joke but still...

Claudia Dain said...

Actually, since Caren brought it up, I think the Jason Bourne duo of character and plot is a great example of doing it right. Without Jason's painful and mysterious backstory, none of the action scenes matter.

In fact, I'd argue that there's not that much plot in a Bourne movie (since I haven't read the books in ages), it's more the emotional and highly personal journey of Jason B that keeps us glued in.

I could analyze this stuff all day, btw, just can't do it on my OWN stuff.

Helen said...

I love a book with emotion I have read lots of books but one thing I don't enjoy is jumping around lots of different plots. There are very few books that I have not enjoyed over the years although all romance they each have their own quality that I enjoy, emotion, some with mystery, characters that have a past that they need to come to terms with, lots of them have bits of all in them and I still enjoy them.
A big congrats AC on the golden rooster glad you enjoyed it.
Anna I am another who does not like Seinfeld could never see anything in the show.
Have Fun
Helen

Joan said...

Anna,

I kind of never was a big Seinfield fan either. EXCEPT for the Soup Nazi episode. "No soup for you!"

What's funny is there is a small little diner in NYC near Central Park called the Astro Cafe. It's run by a bunch of grumpy Greek guys. It's tiny and as soon as you walk in one from the back will glare at you, ask how many and say "You sit there!" in the same type of accent as the soup Nazi. Makes me LMAO. And the foods not bad either :-)

Anna Campbell said...

This is slightly (alright VERY!) off topic, but Margie Lawson who was a very popular guest here a little while ago is blogging about whole brain thinking this morning. I've just been over and done the quiz. Fascinating. http://magicalmusings.com/?p=1312#comment-49996

Hey, great to know I'm not alone in my Seinfeld lack of fandom. I think it was clever and I could see why people liked it but it just never got me going. Although, Joan, you're right about the soup Nazi ep. That was fab!

Anna Campbell said...

OK, that link won't work. Try this one:

http://magicalmusings.com/

Christie Kelley said...

Sorry I haven't been around much today. The workers showed up to frame up the upstairs walls (on a Saturday!) Needless to say, it's nuts around here and I can't escape to a coffeeshop because my husband is out of town for the day. Right now I'm afraid I have to get off the pc because they're working directly above me and pieces of plaster are starting to fall down. So, I'm taking my laptop to a safe place! Keep chatting, I'll be back after they leave.

Susan Seyfarth said...

Ooooh, great post! People have very strong opinions on this one, I find. As usual, though, I'm stuck in the middle.

I agree with Keira that a coherent plot is absolutely essential. It's the skeleton of the book, & if you haven't built it properly, it's not going to stand up to the weight of some heavy duty emotions.

However, having said that, you can have the world's greatest plot, but if I don't love my hero/heroine I'm not going to love the book. For me to get really lost in a book, I have to please both halves of my brain.

Unfortunately, I tend to write from a place of logic, & emotion gets short changed. I'm working on it...

Caren said...

Foanna, I went and took Margie's quiz and learned (no surprise) that I am a whole brain person. I use logic and feelings about equally. I used to be much more "feely" before engineering school, but being in engineering helps you develop the very logical, reasoning part of your brain. I also am quite ambidextrous, switching hands back and forth for everything except writing. Though I did that for months in third grade when I broke my right arm.

I find that when I am working on, you know, work, I am very left-brained and "thinking". When I am writing, I am much more right-brained and "feeling". But I can switch without much effort. Maybe that's why I like stories with both plot and emotion. I appreciate both! Too much plot, though, and I'm outta there...

Aunty Cindy said...

No Foanna, you are NOT alone!

I couldn't STAND Seinfeld! Okay, okay, I watched 2 episodes, almost...

But honestly, I could see no reason to waste time on characters I didn't like and absolutely NO plot.

hmmm, I think that ties into Christie's post after all.

AC
burping up feathers :-P

Anna Campbell said...

Caren, I still think our parents bought us at the same baby shop! Yes, I'm a whole brainer too - which fits in well with Christie's post. Too much wallowing in emotion and I'm outta there. Too much plot and no feeling and I'm outta there too. I think by nature I'm actually really right-brained - very absent minded and dreamy. But I've learnt to operate those other parts of my mind through sheer experience. I like the fact that we CAN change. Someone else made a comment about learning music teaching them to use their whole brain. And there may be something in that too - I mean, you've still got to hit the right notes, no matter who emotional you get! Hmm, actually that's sort of true about writing too...

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, AC, nice to find another person who didn't like Seinfeld. The weird thing was people I know wanted to BE those characters. I really do think their awfulness was meant to be the joke but some people just don't get subtext. ;-)

p226 said...

I found the Bourne reference interesting. First, when you read the books, you realize that much of the character emotion and backstory fell on the cutting room floor. Second, if you've read Ludlums older stuff, you might come to the conclusion that the market (movies, anyone?) pushed him into more action, less character development.

One of my favorite novels is a very old Ludlum novel called "The Holcroft Covenant." I believe it's fairly obscure. But I found it a masterful combination of character development, emotion (even some romance), and action. This book compared to his newer work illustrate nearly opposite ends of a sliding scale. However, another observation, is that they're both very good reads, and were both commercially successful.

Kirsten said...

Hi ya'll,

I feel like the absentee Bandita of late! Christie, this was a great post. I think this is something we all struggle over. I've tried the charting technique, where you use different colors to represent backstory, plot points, different settings, POV, etc. so you can look at the whole thing and see the balance. But I can only do that after the first draft, or part way through. I can't do it ahead of time and follow like a map.

I tend to panic that I don't have enough "things" happening to keep the story moving, so I over-plot, and then pull back later when I find there is emotion to fill in the spaces. But it's always a mystery how, or if, it works. I have no idea.

Good luck with the book Christie--I think we all just muddle along and hope it fits together right in the end!!

Christine Wells said...

Hi Christie! I was early for the original post but then it got taken down and now I'm late! Do I get the sloth or the white rabbit for that?

Loved your post. Great point about plot vs emotion. I think everyone has their own bent and every story is different, too. Scandal's Daughter's external plot was fairly scant but my next book, The Dangerous Duke has a dash of suspense and a fairly complex external plot, even though the focus remains largely on the hero and heroine.

And since I need a clear head to write, I rarely drink any more, so I certainly wasn't imbibing when I told Foanna her wonderful book Tempting the Devil had a plot! Do you like the way I gloat so subtly? I've read TTD and it's fantastic, a real treat for Anna's fans.

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Christine, and I can't even accuse you of being tiddly when you read TTD because you state categorically that you're off the grog right now. Mwah! Thank you!