Falling Flat, and Powerfully – Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain September 2014

Hi, I’m delighted to be back on the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. This month’s prompt is:

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?”

As a reader, I feel most satisfied with a less-than-satisfactory ending. Don’t call the contradiction police yet! Let me defend myself!

           1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Now, you’re never going to plough through a 1,449-page tome knowing your destination, so I mustn’t give it away—maybe that’s the thing I love so much about this book. Mitchell takes you on a journey so unpredictable you can’t tell where it’s going to end. I mean, every twenty pages an unforeseen plot-twist grabs your insides and twists them into a colonic knot. And then the culmination of all this is a damn anti-climax!

gonewiththewind

The first edition cover.

Some readers would feel betrayed. It’s as if the writer gives up, not only on her intricate plot, but on the readers who’ve religiously followed and felt alongside Scarlett O’Hara. The non-spoiler version: Scarlett’s goal has been changing at the same rate it’s been slipping away.

Spoilers: Throughout the entire book, Scarlett has an immature desire for her childhood friend Ashley. She meets and marries Rhett Butler, the only man who understands her worldliness, though she doesn’t love him as he does her. A thousand pages later, Scarlett realises she loves Rhett after all, and Ashley was never worth her obsession. But by this time Rhett is bored of her pining for Ashley. His last words, spoken so heart-wrenchingly by Clark Gable in the 1939 film: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, are so completely the opposite of what the reader has been willing all along.

I guess that’s it. The characters’ motives are at odds with the will of the reader. We know if they ‘just’ surrender their pride and fall into one another’s arms, everything’ll be okay and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s all anyone wants, right? But they don’t, because sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to retrace your steps through traumatic events like those shrouding Scarlett’s life. Anyway, that discrepancy is what I love. It’s so…human. And so tragic.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the beginning of GWTW. The first hundred and fifty pages were so stuffed with insignificant details, I guessed they had to be foreshadowing (it gave me a kick later when I was right). But the moment the book took off, I was lost.

         2. Cutting Loose by Carole Lloyd

This book changed my attitude to writing. It turned up under my bed—by providential means, I believe—pages browned as if with lentigos, cover blanched from untoward exposure. A Contemporary Bildungsroman set in the nineties(?), it basically tells the story of a girl’s crappy Christmas, alternating between her looking back from December 28th/29th and progressing with the New Year festivities.

It begins with the protagonist, Charlie, resenting the relentless tone of the telephone and the control it has over twenty-first century human beings, and believing herself irreparably changed from her rubbish Christmas. But over the next forty-eight hours, as she reflects on what has changed her, she realises she’s as selfish and hypocritical as ever. It’s a journey through levels of maturity, condensed into a small time-frame to augment the intensity and inconstancy of human perception. Charlie easily convinces you she has nothing left to learn, until the final chapter where she goes back on all her judgements of the past days and…well, takes the advice of her enemy and buys ‘some whacking great earrings’.

When I first read it a year or two ago, it resonated with my own teenage moroseness, insincerity and pretensions to maturity. Now, even though I pay more attention to the way it’s written, the ending still echoes something comfortingly lifelike. I can only describe it as a sigh of resignation.

          3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Again, classic. Again, anti-climax. Again, Bildungsroman. Next time I read it I have to count the times I expected Holden to get laid…and he didn’t. Not once. I mean, we didn’t even get to meet the girl he periodically mentions (Jane Gallagher). The entire thing is a ball of wool-fluff expectations that amount to nothing. That kind of book ignites my internal fires far more than a high-stakes fight scene.

Again, first edition cover.

Again, first edition cover.

I suppose, by using Holden as an example, I’m also exhibiting something masochistic. The informal, authentic (albeit unreliable) way Salinger writes draws us into Holden’s mind in a faintly disturbing manner: we share his suppressed angst and rampant hormones, his stream-of-consciousness-style evocations, and the seemingly far-fetched connections so true of our own thought processes. Reading Holden is reliving the tragedy of our own special human madnesses, loving and hating them…and now I’m in danger of getting poetic without point, so I’ll leave it there.

As ever, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. But make sure you check out everyone else in the chain, too:

7th – http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

8th – http://zarahoffman.com/

9th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

10th – http://www.elizamcfarlish.weebly.com/

11th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

12th – http://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/

13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14th – http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

15th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

16th – http://magicandwriting.wordpress.com/

17th – http://ttkesley.wordpress.com/

18th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

19th – http://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

20th – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

24th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE!

and http://www.paperdaydreams.com/

25th – http://write-where-you-are.blogspot.de/

and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

26th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

and http://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com/

27th – http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

and http://dynamicramblings.wordpress.com/

28th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

and http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

29th – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

30th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

The Redeemed Plot-Snob—Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain July 2014

Music: The Rolling Stones – Soul Survivor

Salut, mes petits choux*! I’m new to the chain (sixteen-going-on-seventeen, fractionally British, named Lillian), and quaking under the pressure of trying to write you a satisfactory post. Fun fact: the working title of Pride and Prejudice was ‘First Impressions’—so when you judge me, just remember Colin Firth was destined to play Darcy. (That was a joke.)

So, having introduced you to my caustic wit and romantic insecurity (that was also a joke), I will proceed to answer the prompt question in as concise and riveting a manner as I am able.

“What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?”

When I started writing eludes me (perhaps because it involved the last dinosaur on earth, and that was approximately sixty-five million years ago), but I almost certainly wish I knew how to plot—moreover, that I had to plot! (Interesting that pretty much everyone has mentioned this issue so far.)

A shameless pantser was I, for the first decade or so of my writing life. It worked wonderfully—I scribbled directionless Bildungsromans about families growing up, three generations strong, each chapter a short story of its own, with the pacing of Cranford or Larkrise to Candleford. But agonisingly bloated with exposition!—for how else was I to remember the favourite colours of all the 1,352 characters ornamenting the humongous family tree I’d created? That tree was the best semblance of order my writing ever had.

In November 2011 I took inspirational sci-fi to NaNoWriMo, and there my pomposity literally went intergalactic. When I braved an edit three months later, I realised I’d written eighty-thousand words of circumlocutory (and often self-contradictory) philosophy, interspersed with elaborate chapter-long metaphors and highfalutin religious ideals I’d be embarrassed to repeat.

THAT WAS THE END.

And the beginning of a new era, in which I developed a holy adoration of Microsoft Excel—and now I construct plots scene by scene before even attempting to write. Not only does this provide direction in the drafting, but lends insight into such useful details as the probable length of the product (no more 132k YA Contemps, please) and the duration of the drafting. The older I get the more fundamental this becomes, for, like many busy people, I must schedule my time weeks in advance and am furiously averse to any interventions.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Midway into pre-draft plotting a Contemp.

Long, long ago, I enjoyed the spontaneity to pantsing, but now I see it lacked professionalism. These days tireless plotting writes me better first drafts, for structural flaws may be spotted early. As you can guess from my 1,352-prong fictional family tree, I am a character-writer disdaining speculative premises. What I didn’t know was that in the fictional realm, plot and character hold hands—no one should be personified over the other. And in the fictional realm, you do often have to think slightly larger than ‘life’ in terms of sequential plot structure.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

Post-draft plotting the same novel.

I could talk about determinism or focussing on the hook and to Hell with needless details, but instead I’ll just reiterate that if you’re a character-writer, by all means let the plot stem from the character—but don’t be a plot-snob. Vice versa, don’t be a character-snob and decide Darcy was a self-important fool and therefore all characters ever are self-important fools (they are, too).

There. How’d I do?

~

Here’s the month’s schedule! I’m away for the rest of this month, but will endeavour to get round all yo’ wonderful posts in the near future. À la perchoine**!

5th – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

6th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

8th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/

9th – https://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ – YOU ARE HERE

10th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/

11th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

12th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

13th – http://theweirdystation.blogspot.com/

14th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/

15th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/

16th – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/

17th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/

18th – http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/

19th – http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

20th – https://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

21st – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/

22nd – http://roomble.wordpress.com/

23rd – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/

24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.

~

*Literally ‘my little cabbages’. To avoid confusion, I am not figuring you beside a vegetable. ‘Mon petit chou’ is a French endearment—and considering I can see a French power station from my town church (twenty miles across roiling ocean), I thought it a fitting mode of self-introduction.

**‘Till the next time’ (I hope)! Not classic French—this is a near-extinct dialect of Norman French spoken by my islander ancestors.

 

Weary of Underdog Heroes

(Excuse the spree of colour. Enjoy it, if you will.)

I wrote Captain’s Paper because I was tired of underdog stories. I love a good accidental everyman hero, like everyone, if the transition is effected with due subtlety and credibility, but I can’t pretend I’m a big fan of the underdog triumph. Sorry, but it’s been done too many times and it’s too rare in real life (well, the way it’s often presented).

Take Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

RudolphtheRedNosedReindeerWhat made him great? He had an unusual appearance; that’s all we know. One day, Santa took pity on him. ‘Then all the reindeer loved him’—are reindeer so fickle, so near-seeing, so prejudiced of soul? Yes, it’s nice Santa did his good deed of the day and made the life of a persecuted individual good forever after. Yes, it’s the best moment of Rudolph’s life. But whoever wrote this song had a pretty pessimistic view of reindeer society, in my opinion.

Captain’s Paper follows Drina Connelly, a girl born, bred and accustomed to achieve. All she craves is success. The story deals with her learning to anticipate failure as a legitimate possibility and understanding that it isn’t the extinction of all happiness. And in the end, yes, she fails. She’s not superwoman.

I watched Planes last night. Irritation of irritations! Dusty Crophopper has worked in the fields all his life, dreaming of becoming a magnificent, rich, famous, successful racer. What little boy doesn’t? And then his dream comes true, he woos the gorgeous girlfriend, pulverises the snooty rival, effortlessly gains the loyal best friend and Kenobi-type veteran mentor. Utterly, utterly predictable, right the way through.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin' face is irritating you half as much as it's irritating me, for the sake of my point.

I hope that expression on his cropdustin’ face is irritating you half as much as it’s irritating me, for the sake of my point.

Yes, I have a problem with that.

What I’m getting at is this film is sending bad messages to children. True, Dusty persevered till he got what he wanted (except the faltered-arrogance sequence before the final showdown in which his friends remind him of WHO HE IS and WHAT HE’S THERE FOR). But, like, (yes, I typed that) only 0.0001% of boys who idolise Wayne Rooney even get close, and girls who aspire to look like Barbie dolls…oh, don’t get me started.

Tell me, am I being pessimistic?

That was one of the greatest strengths of Cars (the first). Cocky, one-sided, blasé famous racer Lightning McQueen plunged helplessly into this Radiator Springs place, where no one knows or cares for his reputation or origins. This story tells children that there’s more to life than dreaming. There’s living, too. You don’t have to beat the baddie or show the world (well, okay, sometimes you do).

Now isn't that a nice smile?

Now isn’t that a nice smile?

I love to see big characters humbled and forced to accept their insignificance, far more than strong characters saving the day. Call me sadistic.

What I don’t mean is UNDERDOGS SHOULD STAY UNDERDOGS or YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE FATE (although, hypocritically, I could probably discuss at length why this is true). What I mean is, MUST YOU  WRITE ANOTHER UNDERDOG STORY???

There are many underdog heroes before whom I’d happily grovel. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (excuse me, Sir William Thatcher), I’m winking at you. Dusty Crophopper, I couldn’t care less.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. But then I have a bias to all characters called William.

The beautiful Heath Ledger (1979-2008). He was only twenty at the time, but such a subtlety and confidence to his acting, without the usual arrogance. Still, in 2014, we walk in the garden of his turbulence. (But then, I have a bias to all characters called William.)

CampNaNoWriMo July 2013

(Again, a post less general and more personal to me [than some]. Factual/theoretical dissertations may resume shortly.)

Well, that’s done. You want some figures?

My first serious attempt at NaNo was in November 2011. I set my target at 33,333 words (two thirds of the full 50K, since I had school to contend with) and wrote 34,133.

My second serious attempt was Camp July 2013. I set my target at 25,000 words (half of the full 50K, because I knew I’d be away a lot of the time) and wrote 35,125.

That’s the whole story. I’ve only tried it twice with a definite personal goal in mind, and both times I’ve been stinted by other commitments. Someday I’ll get 50K. I write at a quick enough rate… It’s just when it takes place in a month I’ve nothing better to do.

Oh, I complain. So many people with full-time jobs get well over 50,000 year after year. How hard can it be, if you’re truly motivated?

After all, on day one I wrote over 7,000 words! By day two that was up to 11,000. And then I got lazy… But these past few days I’ve been trying to make amends. I’ll snapshot my graph and you can all bear witness to my erraticness/erraticism/erraticity(?!). My ‘friends’ always chide me for inconsistency.

Mm, as you can see...

Mm, as you can see…

Yeah, my cabin wasn’t the best. Only two of us got past the 5K mark, and the other girl reached her target of twice that and didn’t continue. I am the proud contributor of seventy percent of my cabin’s words. Unfortunately I couldn’t get everyone else’s targets for them as well as my own.

In the past week I’ve experienced several surprise revelations—sudden unexpected plot twists and characters spiralling out of control. Does this always happen on first drafts? I’ve never noticed it before—but to be fair, I’ve always been such a pantser it hasn’t mattered.

This time, however…

To put all this in context, my WriMo novel is something of a detective story, with the relationships constituting the sub-plot, and elements of action, romance and mistaken paranormal thrown in for good measure. And the good old boarding school returns again!

For a start, there’s my foremost supporting character. In the first story, she was just another character thrown in for contrast and remote moral support. She didn’t even speak till the epilogue. Yes, it sounds amateur, but I’ve brought her back for a larger role in the sequel, to make her previous appearances just a big set-up.

And what a role! Her character has been the steadiest and least changeable of everything in my life this month. Before last Friday, I didn’t even realise quite how enigmatic she was. I thought she was shy or nervous, or incredibly self-conscious. ‘Insipid’, Drina calls her. (Very nice of you, Drina.)

Well, she’s not. She’s not at all. If she’s quiet, it’s because she has nothing to say. And that’s only deception, too! She knows things the rest of the cast would give anything to know, too. She never asks questions, and rarely answers them straight. She tells no two people the same things, but never lies. And she never ever tells the whole story.

Sims 3 doesn't have the right hairstyle, so I cropped out the one I was forced to give her.

Sorry I don’t have a better picture.

Much of the plot hangs upon both her silence and her words, and she is the source of most of the story’s revelations. Simply because nothing anyone else says affects how she communicates. She won’t be coaxed, threatened, tempted, trained…

She’s a strange character—one of the most interesting I’ve ever created. And she wasn’t even supposed to be interesting. Plus because she doesn’t express herself properly (and doesn’t care whether she does or not), I can do exciting and terrifying things with her relationships…

Secondly, my long-time lovers separated. And I never saw that coming. They’ve been engaged for four and a half years, and I thought they were so attached, ultimate soul-mates…

But the more gentle and compliant one of the two suggested it, and my MC was so surprised she just walked away. Sad, eh?

And the funny thing is, I scarcely even know how it happened. One moment they were all lovey-dovey and apologising for I-don’t-know-what; the next minute they’d parted. And all done so gently and shockingly I hadn’t an idea what was bound to happen before it actually did.

It’s so shocking I can scarcely say more about it. So I won’t. I don’t even know if they’ll get back together again. Fortunately I’m only halfway through the story, and though they won’t meet again till the end, if the rest of my plan decides to hold out(!), they’ve plenty of time to think it over.

campnanojuly13target2And thirdly, the crazy idea came to me to bring back to life a character who’s been dead twenty-five years (storywise). I’m not sure if I’ll actually do it or not…but my imagination presented it to me in such a way as to make everything else work perfectly. Hm, this requires no mean thought!

This next fortnight I’m back to editing. Wish me good fun!