Thursday, April 24, 2008

Finding Big Plot...Finally


Kathie Shoop

Well, in the last nine months I’ve researched and written another book. This one is very different than my typical women’s fiction fare. Writing comtemperary fiction, for me, was hard and easy at the same time. First, I was fully invested in writing about the world as I see it, as I feel it as a woman. I enjoyed it. BUT, what I enjoy about the contemporary world are the small things that create character rather than the big things that make for highly conceptual/big plots.

Some comments from my agent and others were that my novels were quite good, but small and quiet. Meaning, not enough plot, sister. I never understood that. Who cares? There’s a plot there—Sideways was small, right?

Well, fate intervened in the form of my mother. She handed over the 125 year old love letters written by my great great grandmother to my g.g. grandfather during the year of their engagement. They were unbelievable, moving, sappy, bizarre, optimistic, and totally engrossing. I think they could stand alone as a book as they have their own story arc…but we all know what the answer is to publishing letters of people of zero consequence.

Completely compelled by the content—my g. grandparents subsequent pioneering life, the birth of six kids and shocking divorce as my grandfather left her for another woman—I couldn’t get the characters out of my mind. So, I’ve taken some famous events that occurred while they were pioneering and built a story around huge plot elements, making use of tremendous characters that literally came to me through these letters.

It wasn’t until about halfway through this process that I realized (hit on head with frying pan kind of thing) what my agent and others meant by big plot. In the past I understood the difference between say, Mission Impossible and Sideways, but for me there seemed to be a subtle middle ground that was so interesting. But with this book under my belt, with characters who have environmental and internal obstacles to overcome, I get it. I suddenly, fully get it.

Here’s to learning—the process that hopefully never stops for any human being. And fate, I guess. My mother had been waving those letters at me for years and I ignored them…then one day I sat and read. Boy, I’m glad I did.


Joyce Tremel said...

Kathie, your book sounds fascinating! I kind of had one of those light bulb over the head moments when I wrote my last manuscript. About halfway through the first draft I figured out what everyone meant my "making the book bigger." Not size-wise, of course, but plot-wise.

My mother had letters she and my dad had written back and forth during WWII. I would have loved to have read them. Unfortunately, my great aunt took it upon herself to destroy them all when my mother died because they were "too personal." That was 32 years ago and I'm still pissed about it. Letters like that, personal or not, should ALWAYS be preserved for future generations, even if it's just for the historical content.

Annette said...

Kathie, this really sounds like a terrific story. I hope to get the chance to read it someday soon.

Anonymous said...

Uggghhh, Joyce, that's heartbreaking! Those letters must have been like gold, I can only imagine what wonderful things were in them.

Annette, thanks for the support. NOthing would make me happier than announcing the books birth into the literary world.

It's interesting that Joyce mentioned getting similar feedback regarding the "size" of her plot. I always just assumed the problem was mine partly because of my genre--I assumed writing thriller, mystery, etc. would automatically mean a "big" plot. It is amazing to discover these things and it's fascinating the way understanding something intellectually is not the same as constructing that understanding on paper. Thanks for the comments!

Joyce Tremel said...

This all goes with the problem I'm having with some of the books I'm reading now--the plots are too big!

I'm reading a thriller now (don't worry guest bloggers, it's not one of yours!) where everything is just so over the top that it borders on the ridiculous. I feel compelled to keep reading just to see how many times this character escapes death relatively unscathed.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, I know it's a fine line. The book I reference here is historical fiction and I've drawn facts right out of the jaws of history and one of my readers was concerned that what I'd "invented" was too far-fetched. When I told her it was a factual occurrence, she was fine with it. It made me realize I needed to sell it a little better, figure out how to weave more justification for something the characters wouldn't understand at the time into the events. This one has really been fun...

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's being too big. I think there's TRYING TOO HARD to be big. I'm thinking of _Gone with the Wind_. The events she depicts in that book are HUGE. But it isn't "over the top" because the voices of the characters can live up to the plot.

Anonymous said...

I think it's the small, human details of a story (and especially the characters) that can make an over-the-top plot more readable than, say, a basic thriller.

I love this epiphany of yours, Kathy! It's exciting!