Monday, June 1, 2015
Forwards or Backwards?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: The other day a writer friend who was struggling with a plot asked me if I played chess or was good at strategy games, and if so, did it help with plotting?
My answer was a horrified "No!" NO to both questions! My dad tried to teach me to play chess but instead of learning strategy I made up stories about knights and rooks and bishops. My dad could always beat me at gin rummy because I'd forget what cards he was holding. Same with the bidding domino game 42, which my family played passionately. I loved listening to the click of the dominoes and making patterns with the dots, but... Hmm, it's becoming obvious I'm not a gifted forward thinker.
So how do I plot a complicated mystery? I explained to my friend that I figure out where I think the various parts of the story should end, and then I work backwards, figuring out what things have to happen to get from the end back to the beginning of the story. Is that weird? I do know other writers who only work forwards, but I've always thought it must be really difficult to stitch the pieces together.
Fellow REDS, how do you do it? Do you plot backwards or forwards? And are you good at strategy games?
(I am, by the way, reasonable good at crosswords and Scrabble, so am not completely game challenged!)
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So fascinating! I am: Forward, forward, forward. Absolutely. Otherwise there's no "this, because of this" to it. And things happen for a reason--because of what happened before. I am a complete cause and effect writer. I am so impressed, Debs, that you do it the other way.
Scrabble? Love it--and was unbeatable. Until I met Jonathan. He KILLED me, because he plans ahead. Which I can never do. (So I refuse to play with him anymore. He's just too intimidatingly good.) Chess? I still tried to do it step by step, which spells doom. And cards? Yeesh, you are supposed to remember? Not me. No way.
HALLIE EPHRON: We'll have to match Jonathan up against Jerry one day on opposite sides of the Scrabble board. I refuse to play with him because I'm a lousy loser. I am pretty good at bridge (better than my husband), and you do have to see a way through from start to finish and come up with "what if's" along the way. So it's not unlike plotting a novel except that SOMEONE DEALS YOU THE CARDS. Oh, how I wish someone would deal me some cards for a novel and then I'd just have to see my way through from start to finish. The ending is always the same in bridge. Someone wins. Someone loses. And you always run out of cards.
LUCY BURDETTE: Funny Hallie! I'm a decent bridge player too, except for remembering the cards and planning the play out. Okay, I should amend--I'm good at bidding:). I also love Boggle.
With writing, my editor has sort of adjusted to the fact that I don't seem to know what will happen in a book until it happens. At some point in the writing though, I do skip ahead and write a chapter or two close to the end. That gives me something to shoot for the rest of the book. So it's forward, forward, forward, skip ahead, back, back, forward. No wonder I'm feeling dizzy...
DEBS: Hallie, you have just given us the REDS official motto! So it's not unlike plotting a novel except that SOMEONE DEALS YOU THE CARDS. We all want someone to deal us the cards... But in the meantime, we'll have to muddle along by whatever method works best for us.
But does the backwards or forwards mindset apply to reading as well as plotting? READERS, do you try to stay a step ahead of the writer and guess who done it? Or do you just go along with the story, then think back over how it was put together when you get to the end? (Assuming, of course, that you were surprised... We'd like to think you were.)
You can probably guess that I fall into the second category, although if the mechanics of the plot hit me over the head in the first couple of chapters, I will probably give up on the book. What about you??
P.S. Lucy, what's Boggle?
P.S.S. Don't you love the red knight in the chess photo? How appropriate.
P.S.S.S. And one last note, thinking of that master of the crossword, Colin Dexter. Now there's someone who knows how to put a plot together!