Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Quick & Dirty Plotting Secret

This week I'm going back to that list of questions from my regulars, and picking one from 'Jessica' about writing. She asked how I weave my "50 plot lines together," which I thought was so funny because it sounded "so Sammy."

In reality, there are usually "only" three plot lines in a Sammy Keyes book. Usually these are the mystery, Sammy's home life, and Sammy's school life. Having multiple threads really helps keep the story chugging along. And it allows time to pass in the other story lines without having to deal with filling in time (which is how stories tend to get bogged down). I've discussed before how I use the story's theme to tie the three plot lines together, so I won't delve into that again now. Instead I'll share a secret.

I learned how to plot by watching Seinfeld.

Now, I didn't watch it thinking, Whoa, this sitcom is teaching me how to plot! I didn't take notes or analyze it. I watched it because it was funny. It was actually the only television show (aside from the news) that I watched. Or, I should say, we watched. Mark and I had "real jobs," and did not have the same days off. Watching Seinfeld on Thursday nights became a standing date and something we both really looked forward to.

As with all shows, some episodes are better than others, and after a while I started recognizing that the best ones were both funny and had several seemingly disparate story lines that somehow tied together at the end. Kramer would be off on one of his goofy jaunts, Jerry would be dealing with (say) his parents, George would be involved  in one of his ill-fated schemes, and Elaine would be having some separate crisis of her own. But in the end, zap, all the threads tied together, and in some of those episodes the conclusions are wonderfully satisfying.

Mind you, I didn't realize I was paying attention to the writing, but after years of watching the show, it must've become something I absorbed. And I didn't actually think about how the show had influenced my writing until well after the Sammy Keyes series was under way and people started asking me, Where'd you learn to plot like that? and (having no formal training) I didn't really have an answer. Uh...I read a lot? Uh...Intuition? Uh...I dunno?

But then one day (with a loud click) I made the connection and now I recognize that the (quick and dirty) answer is...I learned to plot by watching Seinfeld. So if you're an aspiring writer and you're sick to death of reading about plotting, go find yourself some Seinfeld. Consider it research.

Thanks for checking in! Hope to see you next week! And as always, I look forward to seeing you in the comments.


Kylie said...

I had to do a contemporary American author project in English this semester and since I had to do and author who has written 3+ books for adults, I chose John Green. I had to write part of my paper on how Johns life influenced his writing. That was the hardest part because I had to research every aspect of his life and connect it to his writing. It was difficult but I got there. He was really influenced by his childhood and his schooling.

Reading what you said about being influenced by Seinfeld was so amazing because it made me think of my paper and how I wished John had places where he said what he has been influenced by. I love hearing about authors lives connecting to their stories because I feel like those authors where you can see their lives in their writing have the best books.

Loved this weeks post and I can't wait to see what you have next week!


Yusa said...

See i feel like it takes a whole lot of skill to write like that and make everything tie together and i feel like i could never do that. Because everything has to be perfect and fit nice and cant overlap. Every storyline keeps me interested. Like Cammy and Sammy's mom, and Heather, and then the actual mystery... the nosy neighbor.. everything just fits together in the end really well.
How do you manage to organize all your thoughts and storylines together into one (or like 20) amazing book(s)?

Ryan said...

It's funny you should mention that, because I absolutely LOVED how all those disparate plot lines from Seinfield would all come together at the end. I'd spend the whole episode trying to figure out how they'd all tie together at the end because it seemed like they *always* tied together at the end in unexpected but so satisfying ways. =)

That show did that sort of thing wonderfully!

-- Ryan

Jessica said...

Thanks for answering my question! I have to confess I was never a fan of Seinfeld (I just didn't find the characters very likeable), but I used to watch it with my family. There were a few really funny episodes -- and you're right, they were the ones where everything tied together neatly.

Your post made me think of JJ, where the school plot (Billy/Marissa) leads right into the mystery plot (shortcut), but Sammy could only get there because of the home plot (killing time in the library because she couldn't accept a ride home in the rain), which led to an intensification of the home/school plot (Heather) at the site of the mystery plot, just after some key clues were sprinkled. And NoS, where the home/school plot drives the need for Sammy to go where the mystery is.

So, yeah. I can recognize when it's done well (and when it's not). I guess the trick is practicing, realizing when you've left one thread alone too long, finding a way to pick it back up using one of the other threads, and shuffling things around as needed in revision.

Thanks again for this thought-provoking response.

Isabel said...

Wow, it sounds like so much work, but man, you make it sound so easy!
I mean, sure, I'll watch Seinfeld, that'll be cool.
So, seriously, it MUST be alot of work! I mean, 3 plot lines...?!? Wow!
Though, it's really fun when you share your 'dirty secrets' with us. I enjoy it, and it helps, too.

Thanks for the little peek, though!

Gabrielle said...

That's very interesting.. I mean who would guess an author watching Seifield to help them with how to plot. It's actually cool,it's different,in a good way. :)


Gaylynn said...

I missed your blog on "how I use the story's theme to tie the three plot lines together" and desperately want to read it! Can you post a link so I can find it and read it?