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Here is the outline of the talk I gave at the Rain Forest Writers Village.

There are many ways to think about plots and how they work--probably as many ways as there are authors and stories--so what I want to share today are what I've been thinking about plot lately and how that thinking has impacted what I'm writing

Key Concepts

  1. galaxyStories work because the structure creates a series of related events.  Fortunately for writers, human beings have a tendency to try to create structures, even out of randomness.  Look what happened when we gazed at the stars: we connected random dots and called them constellations.  We make order out of chaos.  In a story, our readers will try to connect the events, if we give them half a chance, so the act of putting them together creates the relationship.  Our readers will work for us.

  2. Stories are fun to read for what happens along the way, the "jewels on the page" as I think about it, but they really stand or fall on their endings.  Everything in the story eventually exists to justify what happens at the end.

  3. Unity in a story comes from the few parts in the story that are repeated.  Each time the key part arises again, it reflects upon the previous occurrence and deepens in potential significance.  Repeat something often enough or prominently enough, and it rises to the position of "symbol," a powerful place for that item to be.  As a symbol, it will create repercussions in the story.

  4. For me, writing a story goes in two main phases: the first draft, push to the end phase, which is mostly "discovery" writing.  This is great fun because it's all about invention, but it's also all about finding the heart of my story, the thing that makes the story important to me, the reason for telling it.  The second phase is the back-and-forthing phase.  When I'm back-and-forthing, I'm looking where I ended up and then seeing how I set it up.  This might mean changing wording, inserting new scenes, rewriting dialogue, all with the idea that I'm now deepening the effect of my ending.

  5. gattacaWhen I'm back-and-forthing I'm changing from the role of story inventor and becoming the story teller.  The story inventor doesn't know the whole story yet.  Even outliners and meticulous planners don't know the whole story when they finish their plan.  They make discoveries along the way while carrying the plan out.  Characters will say things they didn't know they were going to say.  Details will have to be invented that weren't envisioned while planning.  Unexpected plot twists and subtleties of feeling will show up.  The unexpected is an inevitable part of the story inventor's life.  The story teller, though, knows the whole story when he tells it.  Most importantly, the story teller knows the end, and in knowing the end will bend every word, sentence, scene and chapter to make that ending satisfying.  To make the change for story inventor to story teller, I need to do the back-and-forthing.

  6. The best way that I can think about repetitions and reflections that helps me when I write a story is through a visual metaphor, the plot daisy.  Most people think about a story visually as a series of scenes on a line.  First comes "A," then "B," then "C," etc.  I didn't find that kind of thinking helped me to write the story, though.  We read a story from beginning to end, but when we finish it, we integrate all those separate events into a coherent whole.  We connect the dots.  So for me a stronger visual metaphor is to think of a story in the form of a daisy.  In the center is what the story is about, and the "petals" are the repetitions that create the structure and hold the story together.  I'll use a couple of movies to demonstrate what I mean: Gattaca and Galaxy Quest.

  7. I can see this same repetitive structure in Bob Shaw's "Light of Other Days."

The rest of the presentation was spent going through "Light of Other Days" to show where Shaw used repetitions to create reflections and repercussions.