Plot is usually one of the weakest elements in the work of developing writers. Most developing writers don’t know how to structure a plot. Even if they do, they often find themselves caught between two conflicting goals: the desire to let the story develop organically versus the need to plan and set up key elements so they generate a powerful, unified story.
We decided to ask the brain trust of Odyssey graduates how they have learned to deal with plot, so you can profit from their trials, tribulations, breakthroughs, and realizations. They’ve come through with some great responses. I hope you’ll try all the approaches they discuss and see which one works best for you. Each month, we’ll be asking them another question on writing.
Do you have some idea of what your plot will be before you write, or do you write by the seat of your pants, with no idea how the story will end until you get there, or something in between? What is your plot process, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of your process?
Interview by Shara Saunsaucie White
Carrie Vaughn is the New York Times Bestselling author of a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Publishers Weekly said that “Vaughn’s universe is convincing and imaginative.” Kitty and The Midnight Hour, the first book in the series, has over a hundred thousand copies in print. The two newest books, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand and Kitty Raises Hell, will appear early in 2009. She’s also published many short stories in various anthologies and magazines such as Realms of Fantasy and Weird Tales, and is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series.
Carrie graduated from the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop in 1998 and is excited to return as writer-in-residence for Odyssey 2009. “Once I was but the student. Now, I am the master.” Oh, and she’s also a big Star Wars fan. But she really does have a Masters in English Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She credits the intensive Odyssey experience with helping her cross the great divide between unpublished and published, and with setting her firmly on the road of professional writing, with the skills she learned and contacts she made.
A lifelong science fiction fan and reader (her parents both read science fiction), Carrie worked the traditional series of day jobs for about twelve years before turning to writing full time. She survived her Air Force brat childhood and managed to put down roots in Colorado, where she lives in Boulder with her dog, Lily, and too many hobbies. Visit her website at www.carrievaughn.com.
Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?
Now available on the Odyssey website are two new essays from our graduates describing their Odyssey experiences. If you want to know what Odyssey is REALLY like, check out the following:
Jason Ridler, class of 2005
To Experiment is to Grow: One Value of Odyssey
Rebecca Shelley, pen name R.D. Henham, class of 2001
Getting the Vision onto the Paper
To read other accounts by Odyssey graduates, please check out our Graduates’ Experiences page on the Odyssey website.
Podcast #23 is now available for download here.
February’s podcast is an excerpt from literary agent Jenny Rappaport’s lecture at Odyssey 2008. In her lecture, Jenny gave her assessment of the publishing industry and explained how an author can break into publishing, navigate the changing marketplace, and survive. In this podcast, she explains step-by-step how to get an agent: how to write a strong synopsis; the best strategy for sending queries to agents; how to get your work into the hands of as many agents at once as possible. She also discusses what to do when an agent says she wants to represent you: what to look for in a representation agreement, what fees you should agree to, and how to form a positive relationship with your agent. How important it is to get an agent? What can an agent do for you, and what can’t an agent do? Jenny describes the various publishers and imprints currently buying fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She also discusses how well the various genres are selling, the cyclical nature of genres, and how the genre of a work influences a publisher’s decision whether or not to publish that work.
Jenny Rappaport is the owner of The Rappaport Agency, LLC, a boutique literary agency specializing in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, young adult, and romance. She has previously worked at Folio Literary Management and the L. Perkins Agency. Jenny attended Carnegie Mellon University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. She is a 2002 graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Her nonfiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her microfiction in Thaumatrope. She is currently working on a novel in her free time.
Podcast #22 is now up at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/podcasts.html. It is an excerpt from a lecture by award-winning author Nancy Kress, who served as writer-in-residence at the 2008 Odyssey workshop. Nancy delivered a week of amazing lectures, provided in-depth feedback on student manuscripts, and met privately with students. In this podcast, Nancy discusses writing in scenes, the concept that turned her own stories from non-salable to salable. Nancy explains that stories should be structured in scenes, and that each scene should have its own purpose. She breaks scenes into five modes of expression: dialogue, description, action, character’s thoughts, and exposition. Nancy explains why dialogue should be at the heart of almost all scenes. She also discusses the importance of the “surround”–the other four modes that are interspersed with the dialogue–and through a series of examples, illustrates how the dialogue and the surround interact to create meaning.
Nancy Kress is the author of twenty-three books: three fantasy novels, eleven SF novels, two thrillers, three collections of short stories, one YA novel, and three books on writing fiction. She is perhaps best known for the “Sleepless” trilogy that began with Beggars in Spain. The novel was based on a Nebula- and Hugo-winning novella of the same name; the series then continued with Beggars and Choosers and Beggars Ride. The trilogy explores questions of genetic engineering, social structure, and what society’s “haves” owe its “have-nots.” In 2008 three Kress books will appear: a collection of short stories, Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (Golden Gryphon Press), and two novels, Steal Across the Sky (Tor) and Dogs (Tachyon).
Kress’s short fiction has won three Nebulas and a Hugo, and her novel Probability Space won the 2003 John W. Campbell Award. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages. She lives in Rochester, New York, with the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.