Over the weekend of February 21 to 23 I participated in the SCBWI Mid Winter Conference in New York City. There is a lot crammed into two and a half days, it is one event after another. This year they added craft for the writers. I’ve done the roundtable, and while it was an interesting experience, I don’t know that it gave me much to take away beyond what applied to the 200 words I brought with me. This year there was a daylong intensive on plot and structure with four presentations: Emma Dryden, Jill Santopolo, Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein, all on plot and structure.
While I feel pretty confident I can do plot [versus character] I do have a tendency to wind the plot into knots trying to make the red herrings more red and the obstacles more difficult. And the problem with that is it leaves me confused about what my character really wants to do, which parts of the plots are subplots and which part truly belong to the through line of the story arc.
The craft benefit of this intensive was not just the handouts, but the exercises. The fact that I learned how to identify not just the action [which is the part I dearly love] but also the emotional aspect of the action plot on my character. Now I can sit down and apply these exercises to each and every book I have. Oh, my!
I like my characters, I really do. But initially when I come up with a story I’m more interested in how the plot unfolds and what that means. Not quite theme, although that emerges when I realize where the book ends, but more what kind of scrapes and messes [that old saw–have your character run up a tree and then make them figure out how to get down] the character can get into, and how full of action and adventure they are.
I grew up with mystery books where the character really never changed, never grew, hardly aged. And, although I like books where the character grows up or becomes something other than what they were in the beginning of the story, it is not that huge for me. So the best part of this was not discussing the action plot, but the emotional plot, also called the heartline by one of the speakers. This is how the character goes from the beginning, maybe being cherished and coddled to frightened and in danger to solving the mystery, to the end, realizing he/she is now in charge of his/her own destiny.
When I think of it, I realize how my personal heartline changed from elementary school, through college, to adult hood and beyond. Every person has a heartline. That’s pretty cool!