Bopping From Topic To Topic

Goliath

This week’s Wandering is going dedicated to chaos.  First a public service announcement, then we’ll hop on the carousel and spin off to where Jane Gets Her Plots.  Warning…  To be permitted on this ride, you need to be able to handle illogical logic!

A recent piece of fan mail lifted my spirits by saying this about Wolf’s Search: “It’s been a long time since I read a Firekeeper book. In fact, I was fascinated at how you worked in things so I didn’t feel I was in too strange a world.”  Big grin!  I guess I achieved my nearly impossible goal of writing the seventh book in a series that doesn’t require a year of re-reading the six prior volumes before a reader can enjoy the new tale!

I’d like to thank those of you who have shared your enthusiasm for Wolf’s Search with me on Facebook, Twitter, and via e-mail.  Special thanks to those who have taken the time to share their thoughts on Amazon or other bookseller sites.  To a reader, my enthusiasm for my books is potentially suspect, so yours is very important!

Now for that carousel ride…

Late last week, I asked for suggestions as to what I might wander on about this week.  Nan Silvernail asked me to talk about carousels.  Later, Jack McDevitt said he’d like to hear something about how I come up with plots.  Today I’m going to do both…

Some of you might be wondering “Why did she ask about carousels?  I could see wolves or gardens or even guinea pigs, but carousels?”

Well, although I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that features a carousel in a major role, I’ve been a huge fan of carousels, quite possibly since I was pre-verbal.  I grew up in Washington, D.C., and was lucky enough to have parents who thought that taking the kids to the Smithsonian was a good thing to do.  On the Mall was an antique carousel.  Although we rarely got to ride it, we were allowed to stand and watch as it went around and around.

My enthusiasm for carousels was further fed by the collection of figures in what was then called something like the Museum of History and Technology.  For that reason, this was my second favorite of the Smithsonian museums.  (My first favorite was Natural History.)

When I went to Fordham University in New York for college, I had a chance to meet a whole new slew of carousels.  A perfect weekend jaunt was to go to Manhattan to the Complete Strategist gaming store, then for a ride on the carousel in Central Park.  One time I even went to an auction of a carousel collection.  They were impossibly expensive, but it was a once in a lifetime chance to see those figures.  I still have the catalog.

When I was in grad school, I purchased a fiberglass “carousel horse” on Canal Street.  The quotes are because this figure was never meant to be on a working carousel, but to be used as a store display piece.  Originally, my horse was just grey fiberglass but, after I moved to Virginia, I painted it with house paint.  Goliath—yes, named for the horse in the movie Ladyhawke—has been with me since.  In my yard, surrounded by Datura and Russian sage, resides Jerome Girard Giraffe.  He’s aluminum, and probably came off a decommissioned Mexican carousel.

Jerome Gerard Giraffe Among the Datura

Perhaps it’s not surprising that someone who loves carousels, which go round and round and up and down all at once, does not write in a linear fashion.  This definitely applies to how I come up with plots.  Basically, I don’t, at least not in advance.  Instead, I come up with a problem or several problems, then set out to find out how my characters will deal with them.  I don’t know the end of a story until shortly before I write it.  If I did, I’d get seriously bored and probably never finish it.

Character point of view is very important to how a story unfolds for me.  Firekeeper will see events one way, Laria or Ranz another.  None of these points of view are necessarily wrong.  I really enjoy immersing myself in different people, their values, priorities, and even shortcomings.

Organization comes both as I write and after.  As I am writing, I keep what I call a reverse outline that helps me keep track of the flow of time, and makes sure I don’t leave any point-of-view character out of the action for too long.  After I’m done writing a rough draft, I clean up stray bits that didn’t go anywhere and tighten my prose.

About the closest I come to outlining is to pull out crayons or colored pens and do freewriting exercises.  For these, I scrawl random elements from the novel on a blank sheet of paper, then draw lines between them, just to see if there are any links I’ve forgotten or overlooked.

Sometimes I have a revelation.  Other times the end result is just pretty, but at least I’ve had an excuse to play with my crayons.

Maybe I’d work differently if I wrote mysteries like Jack McDevitt’s Alex and Chase novels (I’m really enjoying Octavia Gone), and I needed to know the solution before my characters do.  However, working up an outline, even a very detailed proposal, doesn’t stimulate my creativity. It stops it.

This reminds me that I need to update the reverse outline for Wolf’s Soul, then maybe pull out those crayons and a stack of scrap paper and explore what’s going to happen when…  No.  I’m not teasing!  I really don’t know how the story is going to work out, and I’m very eager to learn.

4 Responses to “Bopping From Topic To Topic”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    Carousels are magical. They old wooden animals are fantastic works of art. Even the little quarter operated ones they had outside of stores were fun for children.

    I would think that letting the characters tell you their story, rather than having it all plotted out, would be much more fun. It seems like it would allow for more flexibility too. If you get a great “ah-ha” moment you can work it in more easily.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I almost bought one of those “outside the store” ones once when a local market went out of business. I’d still be tempted with the right one. My one regret was missing a tiger who was probably a companion to Jerome… I was tight on funds at the time.

  2. Harried Harry Says:

    Speaking of carousels reminded my of one of my favorite weekend trips. In the last century I was on a business trip (two whole weeks!) to Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad Cities area. For a weekend trip a number of us went on tripping around Iowa and into Wisconsin. We went to the Wisconsin Dells area and to Baraboo, which was the winter location for the Barnum & Bailey Circus. We saw lots of carousels and even found a museum for carnival events & other stuff. Great time for all of us, especially for those from Canada! They did learn to appreciate the food as well as the scenic views like at Talliessen West, which is a home built in and on rock.

    For anyone who ever visits that area, you will find your imaginations stimulated to no end. For me, the highlight was going through the museums and seeing all the puppet shows which were powered by steam (if my memory is correct).

    Enjoy the week.

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