July 10, 2021 - Ideas

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Today I used the study of plot as a jumping off point for ideas for my next book. My first source was Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. He’s been writing and teaching writing for a long time. I’d probably sign up for one of his courses, but he’s a science fiction and fantasy writer, and I’d prefer to study with another mystery writer—if I can ever find one who I admire, respect, and who gives a course that has personal feedback on assignments. Anyway, for now books will have to do.


I highlighted several passages in the section I read:

“When we read, we buy into a shared dream, a shared fiction, and by doing so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy.”


This statement particularly resonated with me because I’ve been rereading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. She’s an amazing writer, and what I’ve been impressed with in the last couple of days is the way she evokes emotions in the reader (me). There’s not only the romance, but Claire’s feelings of hollowness because she would so like to be a mother and can’t have a child. And Jamie’s feelings about his past come through as well.


Back to David Farland:

“As we read well-formed stories—tales where there is an ascending level of stress, doubt as to the outcome, followed by a conclusion where the stress is relieved.”

“What stories do: they simultaneously try to make sense of the world and entertain.”


Farland also throws in some science with his literary theory when talking about stories as a drug.

“Recent studies show that when we are confronted with a mystery and try to resolve it, the brain releases dopamine in order to reward us for the search. As soon as the answer to the mystery is found, the release of dopamine ceases, and serotonin gets released. In other words, we are rewarded in part just for the search, but the biggest reward comes from finding the answer.”


I don’t know about other writers, but especially when I’m starting a new book, I have to throw a lot of things into the pot of my brain and let them stew around for a while. One of the other things that got thrown in recently was watching a video on using enneagrams as the basis for developing characters. I’d heard about this before, but always considered it some kind of mumbo-jumbo and so ignored it. But the video made me curious and the author had set up the nine different types and their characteristics in Plottr (because that’s the business that interviewed her for the video), and it started to look interesting to me.


So while I was reading all the stuff on plot, in the background my brain was picking at those personality types and thinking about which ones would fit which characters. So I stopped for a bit and figured out one character in this book was not the victim, but the primary suspect, and using the characteristics of his type, I came up with a bunch of ideas for how he would behave.


With all of this stuff bubbling around, I came up with the first scene of the new book and a bit of the last scene. I’ve known for a while what the epilogue will be because it’s a thread I dropped in the first book of the series that I want to resolve in this one.


All in all, a very satisfying day.


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