Sunday, April 11, 2010

Help! I See Plots.

Yesterday, Sarah wrote about being attacked by a novel and how it can happen at the most inconvenient of times. I think a number of us can identify with that. It pushes you away from everything when it happens, demanding that you put fingers to keyboard -- or pen to paper -- and write. I love those days, even if they do mean postponing the chores I really needed to do or not going to the movie I wanted to see.

Then there are those times when being a writer means you look at things a bit differently than most everyone else. At least I hope it's being a writer and I'm not turning into a conspiracy nut ;-)

An example of this, and how it happens to me, is yesterday's crash of the TU-154 in Russia that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife and more than 90 other people. Many of those killed held positions in the Polish government. They were on their way to Russia to take part in a tribute honoring the thousands of Polish officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940 around Katyn forest in western Russia. If I remember correctly, there were several thousand officers killed. In total, more than 20,000 Poles died during that time at the hands of the Soviets.

As horrible as news of the crash was, it was the details of it that sent my mind racing, looking for cause and effect. The first thing to catch my eye was the initial report that one person who was supposed to be on that flight didn't make it on board. Maybe nothing, but the writer in me starts wondering if, perhaps, that person knew something was going to happen. Did they have a premonition? What caused them to decide not to board the jet?

Then there was the fact that the jet went down in Russia. Russia, long an enemy of the Polish state. An enmity that goes back longer than the existence of the communist state, long before the events leading up to World War II. Still, that part of my brain that tries to think logically most of the time kept telling me I was reading more into it than was there.

But, I reminded myself, let's not forget that the jet had been serviced just a few months ago -- in Russia. What if something had been done -- or not done -- to the jet then. Could this all be some sort of plot aimed at striking at Polish leadership?

Mind you, there is no proof to any of this. I'm not saying the deaths of President Kaczynski and all those others was anything but an unfortunate accident. What I am saying is that my mind took those leaps yesterday and started spinning the threads together to form the basis of a story.

I know part of the reason I made those leaps of logic -- and, no, I'm not saying it was real logic -- is my age. I don't remember the Cuban Missile Crisis but I do recall President Kennedy's assassination. I remember the drills in elementary school when we practiced what to do in case of a tornado -- or nuclear attack. I remember seeing the signs on buildings and highway overpasses/tunnels letting us know where the shelters were in case of attack. So I might be a bit more predisposed to think of the events surrounding the crash as part of a plot than others would be.

What I do know is I do seem to look at things and have a part of my mind thinking about how I can use it in a story. Whether it is something like the horrible crash yesterday or watching the men take down the 50' pine tree in my front yard, seeing how one of the men worked bottom to top as he took down the limbs, leaving footholds as he went and how he carefully trimmed each limb before he cut it down so it wouldn't tear up the ground when it dropped. Then there was how he all but communed with the tree, carefully circling it, studying it, almost talking to it as he figured out where to cut so the trunk would fall exactly where he wanted.

How about you? What sort of leaps does your mind take when reading the news or watching something happen? Is it the same sort of leap you see from those around you or different? Or should I just accept the fact that I see plots -- and possibly conspiracies -- around every corner?

26 comments:

C Kelsey said...

I don't just see plots around every corner. I see nefarious plots around every corner! The nefarious kind that would go good in a story... :)

Bill said...

I was thinking some of the same things when I read the article yesterday.

Heck, I still get "Conspiracy Theory" flashbacks every time there's an earthquake or tsunami while the space shuttle is in orbit, or "work is being done on XYZ space station."

The other thing I do is ... I like to imagine random people that I run into (store, restaurant, etc.) as a character in my story, and how they would/wouldn't handle the environment.

Nice post.

matapam said...

It all gets put into stories. Silly, scary, large or small. They become plots or subplots, romantic scenes, fights, farces, relationships, fictional help and fictional hazard.

Fortunately our nearest and dearest don't seem to recognize their fictionalized selves, otherwise I'd lose half my typo hunters.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

It is a function of the human mind to see logic behind events. And writers deliberately train and exacerbate that trait (it's called carrying a plot in a bucket.)

No wonder so many of us end up HIDEOUSLY paranoid as we age.

It requires careful ballance to keep from going totally over the edge.


Meanwhile, Pam, I don't use anyone I know for characters. EVER. (except red shirts, limited situation, etc.) So explain to me why my friends persist on seeing them in my characters -- often on the slimmest of threads. "your character is blond, I'm blond. Everyone will think you mean me. Ahhh!"

Jim McCoy said...

This is rough. I'm a history major and I've read enough about real plots/coups/etc. that I'm paranoid to begin with. Then add in all of the fiction I've read. Then add in some of the stuff that I've written which isn't exactly a textbook example of the way responsible politicians/military members should act....

And sometimes I get so crazy I can't stand it. I once found a piece of a headset from work (I work in a call center) laying outside in the parking lot. I just threw it in my backpack and figured I'd return it the next day at work. By the time I got to work I had myself convinced that it was some type of trap to find out who would steal the cord in the first place. And don't get me started about the time my access card got demagnetized and I couldn't get in...

Yeah, I get this kind of response too. I guess we all get a little paranoid sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I would never use a whole, entire person without permission. But when you see interactions, personality quirks, perfect stereotypes it's impossible to not use the observations to flesh out characters and make them a bit more real. And isn't it strange how they see themselves by physical description not the personality trait? So many people fit any description, personality type, political bent . . .

I find it impossible to not use all the people around me. I just piece them together, and hopefully offend none.

MataPam

Kate said...

Oh, my. Human pattern matching plus unhappy events = conspiracy theory. We can't help but try to fit random events to a pattern.

The fact that sometimes there is a pattern doesn't help.

I try to remind myself that if it's a choice between conspiracy and stupidity - even the most breath-taking, mindboggling stupidity - go with stupid every time. Most of the people you're talking about aren't smart enough to carry a conspiracy for more than a few minutes.

Of course, sufficiently advanced stupid is indistinguishable from malice, so...

I'll often take something like this and start playing what if with it. What if it wasn't an accident? Who would have arranged things? Why? Then some undetermined period of time later, I have my story in the world that emerged as a result (usually not a nice place).

What passes for Kate-logic tends not to bear any resemblance to normal thought - I admire those who can follow me when I make one of those leaps.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Bill, conspiracy was the first thing I thought of too.

Matapam, I don't see 'dead peeps', but I do see fascinating people. I catch a lot of trains and I overhear things that leave me wondering. And of course, as soon as I start wondering, my mind connects the dots and I have a story!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

It's not that I don't WANT to use people I know. And I'm not saying subconsciously they don't have something of the people I know. I'm just saying I get accosted by critters saying "tell my story" so I don't get to BUILD them.

Oh, and yeah on that the funny thing is that my friend has convinced himself he's a green eyed blond, when in fact his hair is at best lightish brown and his eyes are enamel ware blue. So even physically you'd be pressed to find anything in common.

matapam said...

::snicker:: Now that's funny, Sarah. You matched his inner ideal.

I know what you mean about the Characters just popping up complete. It's the other characters around them that I have to hand craft, so to speak.

Mind you those minor characters can get uppity, too. They decide it's fun, make up their own back stories, insist on being in the next book . . .

Amanda Green said...

Chris K, then where are all these nefarious plots, hmmm? I'm waiting. [VBEG]

Amanda Green said...

Bill, glad to know I wasn't the only one who had that possibility when seeing the story. Now, of course, I have that scenario running around in my head, trying to morph into a story that will demand my undivided attention -- as if I needed another story waiting to be written.

I love to people watch, to imagine how they might react in any given situation and then use them in my work. To me, that's fun.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, you're braver than I am if you actually put folks you know and love in your books...either that or my family is more apt to hurt me if they should happen to recognize themselves and not like the way I wrote them ;-p

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, I'll have you know my paranoia isn't hideous. It might be a bit abnormal, maybe even frightening, but it isn't hideous [VBG]

Seriously, you're right. I think we are consciously and subconsciously looking for the logic, the ties that connect the various bits of information we see and hear and read. It's what we do with those observations and how we twist them to our use as plot points that makes us different from the conspiracy nuts...at least that's what I keep telling myself. Wait, why are you looking at me like that? (slinking away to hide in the shadows again)

Amanda Green said...

Jim, are you sure we aren't related? Wait, in a way we are, we're writers.

Maybe it's part and parcel with us looking at what goes on around us, reading a variety a material -- fiction and non-fiction -- and using our imaginations. Yes, it makes us paranoid at times, or at least it does me, but it also makes it so much fun to think of and explore plot possibilities.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, I knew you were the were-slush reader. Now you're telling me you're Frankenstein as well? Cool!

So here's my question, if you were having to stitch together the best character you could -- bad guy, of course -- what historical characters (real or fictional) would you use?

Amanda Green said...

Kate, that's exactly the same game I tend to play. Even if the result bears little resemblance to what actually happened, it's a great exercise and can lead to fun plot points.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, trains are great places to people watch. You see all sorts of people and hear all sorts of conversations. What's fun is when you think you've gotten someone pegged by their clothes or actions and then you overhear a snippet of conversation or realize they are reading a book on advanced nuclear physics or the like and realize your initial perception is all wrong. That, for me, is when real characters start forming in my head.

Sidewalk cafes are another great place to people watch and just let the world wash over you. Amusement parks are as well. After all, where else can you see the whole spectrum of emotion and reaction than in a place where people actually pay money to be scared, to go fast or just to walk around people watching?

matapam said...

Neither of my sisters will read my stuff, so they're fair game. ::Grin:: And then there are their three ex husbands. And boyfriends. Yikes! Looking back at some of the things my younger sister brought home!

And my neighbors.

As far as I know they don't read SF, so I'm safe writing about the lady who divorced her husband, leaving her sixteen pregnant dachshunds behind. Mind you I was exaggerating. But not nearly as much as you'd think.

Amanda Green said...

But, Sarah, that's who he really is. You're supposed to know that ;-)

And I get attacked by characters as well. Still, there are all those supporting characters to be written and that's where I find myself using collages of people I've seen.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, those minor characters can be a right pain. I've got one who refuses to die. Another who was supposed to show up in one scene -- ONE -- but who now keeps insisting that he must be a major character in the book. After all, in his mind, he is the perfect villain who really is a hero....gah, talk about lacking a grasp on reality.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, sixteen pregnant dachshunds? Oh my...that's just wonderful. Talk about having revenge on the soon-to-be-ex, especially if you have them all nicely nestled in on his favorite shirts and suits. Oh, my.

And yes, ex-husbands, weird former boyfriends, former mothers-in-law are all fair game. You change the names to protect not the innocent but yourself...bwahahahahahaha.

matapam said...

Now you've done it. Reminded me that I was going to write about the Houston Quilt festival and writing.

Let's see. Stitching together the best possible Bad Guy character? First you want Charm and Charisma combined with Ambition. Think Bill Clinton. Except perhaps looking like Bat Masterson. Twirling his sword cane. Fancy suits and a derby hat.

Loose morals, repression, violence? A hidden normal family life?

Then you have to give him a following. Jim Jones style? Ick.

Inherited an army from his noble father?

How about a stereotyped cold blooded businessman, turning a blind eye to the methods used by his underlings, covering for them. Actually this works better when he's middle management. He was just following orders. And those other people? They weren't _his_ subordinates, but he'd never actually checked rigorously to be sure they were working for the company at all. Perhaps they worked for a rival, trying to make the company look bad.

Or, of course, he could be a spy for the opposition. Bad Guy by definition, but not perhaps a sociopath.

Or he could do things remotely, bombs and so forth, shutting his mind down and not allowing himself to think in terms of killing people. Technical details only.

He could be a King Steven who swore to support Maud, but changed his mind when he considered her husband. Or was he just ambitious? Swayed by his sycophants?

He could see himself as Robin Hood, see himself as the victim, justify everything he does as being for the long term good.

How about Patty Hearst? Between brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome, she turned into a minor Bad Guy. Do that to someone with a bit more potential for badness already and you might come up with something nasty. That would be tiptoeing over the line into horror, which I have trouble doing.

Umm, a Custer type character might be an interesting Bad Guy.And I know right where I'd put him . . .

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, great ideas, all of them. I especially like the first. And I want to read the Custer character...so, when will it be done so I can?

matapam said...

Oh, who knows? Custer would fit in nicely in a world where the "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy" are the gravitational reactions with parallel world, which are spiraling in closer for one of their periodic merges. An egotistical cavalry office hunting for, oh, maybe goblins, when his world overlaps with the modern world . . .

It's one of those ideas that got written down to get it out of my head, so I could finish at least one of the others. If I ever get published, I'll probably die of old age before I run out of backlogged ideas. Err, I suppose that will happen if I never get published, either.;)

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, to quote Sarah, "Not if you get published but when."

And the idea sounds like fun. I really would like to read it after you write it.