Learning to plot – a writer’s quest


So I am at a virtual stand still as I realise my major writing hurdle is learning to plot. Time to build some stairs, or a rope ladder.

I recently managed to finish one picture book and send it off.  One of the things mentioned in critiques was redoing the plot line to introduce some things into the story earlier, to invest the reader in the character, clarifying aspects of the ending, and making some aspect of the plot in the middle even more believable. I reworked it, and in the end was happy with the plot line.  This picture book came from a poem that was without any sense of strong plot, mostly emotion, but the reworking required me to be very thoughtful about the plot.

Going back to the drawing board for some of the other picture books, unfinished short stories, memoirs and novel I am stumped as the plotting problems started yelling at me! ‘Sort me out!’

As a poet for many years I loved writing emotions, memories, and setting, looking back I seldom consciously explored plots.

At the moment I am creating character poems and realise this particular poetic series is in search of a plot line. It is different from the poetry I wrote before. It may even be a fledgling novel.  This is a good challenge and I will find the journey forward by plotting.

In more recent years I took up writing memory stories, and reflecting on current events around me.

When writing memory stories, the plot is already there, life as it happens, with some added structure, a strong sense of setting and place and sometimes a charming or a challenging outcome. There may even be some twists.

Reflections don’t seem to require a plot line, but if they do have one it strengthens them for the reader making the journey through the reflection or meditation.

But to connect all these memory stories into a memoir, I find myself considering a central plot line with subplots, something to help a reader navigate my life in a way that makes sense.

Sometimes I luck upon my plot line in anecdotes that just came naturally off the pen. The ingredients of the narrative are there, but this haphazard lucking on the plot line just isn’t going to wash it.

In short stories I often create characters and setting that I love and have several half begun short stories I long to finish, but I need the plot to propel them into fully blown novels, and compelling short stories.

I am determined to write some outlines and overcome my plotting deficit. This is going to require, reading, analysis, and practice.

So today I heed Kiki Sullivan’ s plot outline advice and I am going to build a bridge, or is it a sledge hammer to break through my writing hurdle.  I need to read some of my favourite books that plot beautifully and learn from some masters.

Time for this rambling writer to find her story line and polish the stories just as she wants to!

Any advice, or links, please leave them in the comments !

(c) June Perkins

Listening Divas – A Family Ritual Contribution

You can find Listening Divas over at the ABC Open project 500 words.

It’s day one of the project and we already have twenty contributions.  These began coming in this last week.

There are some beautiful stories arriving into the space.  My present favourite has to be Helen’s Puftalons.   The combination of rain, food, and overcoming drought is just mesmerising.

I like writing about the everyday that elevates it to some poetic level and I think Helen has achieved that.

There are lots of others to appeal though on themes from holidays to christmas and I’m sure there’s many more stories on their way

Yesterday I began work on my memoirs.  Some of the stories I’ve written for the ABC Open challenge will be in there, others are from the blog here, and my personal blog challenges, some are written for writing challenges over at Write Practice and some are never before seen stories.

I am so excited about it.  As of this morning the memoirs is at 25,000 words.  I have listed several more titles for story/passages  I wish to write, have a structure that I think is working. I’m not going to share it all here. You will just have to wait for the book.  After all you need some surprises!

I might give a sneak peak now and then of the work in progress, but I’m having a ball writing it, so  I hope you’ll have a ball reading it.

Listening Divas
My Dad – with us as Kids- by Anna Ako
When we were young, Dad told us bed time stories. They were always silly with us in starring roles.
Dad liked Spike Milligan and AA Milne. Sometimes he’d recite his favourite poems and direct them to one of us.
Snatches of AA Milne come back to me at the oddest times, with his poetry of children whose parents run away and cautionary tales to not step on the cracks in the footpath.
Dad’s stories were funny and satirical but sometimes we protested about the way he portrayed us. We were unruly characters, tiny divas, jostling for bigger and more complimentary roles. We directed our storytelling Dad just so.
Our favourite thing was Dad giving us magical powers. We told him the names we wanted and what we should be doing.

‘No I wouldn’t do that.’
‘I should be taller’
‘I need to run faster’
‘I’d jump to … the moon’

We loved to take over his stories. Sometimes our diva listening ways were so out of control they would make our storyteller abandon his tale and he’d grab out the Muddle Headed Wombat book to read to us and do all the characters voices for us. Tabby Cat, Mouse and Wombat became our friends. I read all the books when I had mastered the art of reading.

These stories were important because when we were very small our Dad was often away for long periods working as a labourer. Partly because of not having qualifications from his years in Papua New Guinea and partly due to prejudice over our Mum’s race he found it difficult to get and keep other work.

Our Mum told us when Dad came home after long labouring jobs my little brothers had forgotten who he was, and would hide behind her crying as the strange man with the overgrown beard came to hug us.

When Dad was finally home again for most of the time, we were able to know him again through the storytelling ritual.

Just as we were getting used to on tap Dad, he was away again to study and become a teacher and then later a librarian. Luckily I could read some of the books he had read to us so I didn’t miss him too much. Dad lived in another town with a landlady and sometimes we would visit him.

Dad hitch-hiked home to see us when he had a chance. This time when he came home we would come running out to meet him and my younger brothers would pipe up with ‘a story, a story.’ I listened for old time’s sake.

I was less of a listening diva because by this stage I was writing my own stories – partly thanks to my Dad’s early storytelling efforts to reconnect with his children.

For more on the ABC 500 Word Project Head to ABC Open, and check out  rituals families have.



Originally uploaded by gumbootspearlz.

Over the last few months I have been voluntarily doing some storytelling in a school.

I am always looking for ideas and stories and have been searching websites for some interesting things about the art of storytelling.

As I approach sharing stories with the children I am thinking about how this can enhance their learning and literacy and enjoyment of listening to and making up and telling others stories.

Of course I have always read and made up stories for my children. We even play some games commonly played like you say a line, I say a line.

I hope that sometime I can attend some workshops on storytellers and meet and discuss with other storytellers. For now I have joined some discussion groups and am just observing what things they talk about and the kinds of events that storytellers participate in.

There is something about telling a story rather than just reading it that can be quite dynamic. Years ago I was in a short term multicultural storytelling group and we worked with props to tell our stories. It was quite a lot of fun and I learnt heaps. Funny how life comes full circle.

Photographs can prompt stories too! I like this photograph because of the patterns on the leaves. They look like they have been written on in spidery cursive writing. They are trying to tell a story, or maybe they are a magic spell left there by a fairy. Storytellers and writers to me make the most of everything they come into contact with, memories, family stories, fairy stories, things they have read etc. etc.