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/

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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.