By Laura Drake
Have you ever heard this Indian Parable? Six blind men try to determine what an elephant looks like by feeling different parts of its body. The one at the tail says an elephant is like a rope; the one at a leg says it’s like a pipe, the one at the ear, a fan, and so on.
This is how I plot, and it’s maddening.
I’m a character-driven writer. I get the character first, and a theme. The plot develops as a natural progression of my protagonist’s arc. “Natural progression” sounds so orderly and logical, but it’s not. I get illusive snippets, disjointed puzzle pieces seemingly cut by Dali on hallucinogens.
But the snippets are good – that’s the problem. I know there’s a book in there if I can just pull it all together, but like the blind men, I have no clue how a rope fits with a fan, or a pipe. My mind won’t leave it alone. It keeps coming back to worry at the puzzle. I dream about it, I bounce it off people, I despair.
Then I make a connection and a piece falls into place. Aha! The impossible becomes logical. I’m now convinced this is going to be a stunning work of brilliance. I can see the cover, reclining in accolades amid the other best sellers in Costco. I’m so proud. I start writing the acknowledgements page in my mind (okay, that was an embarrassing admission, but I’m among friends, right?)
Then I move on to the next issue. How the heck do a rope and a pipe co-exist? This is impossible. This plot is vomit, and my crit group is going to exchange sad head shakes behind my back. My brain goes back to worrying at the problem.
I’ve heard that when Michelangelo looked at a slab of marble, he saw in it the completed sculpture. Then all he had to do was chip away what didn’t belong there. I want THAT!
These elephants are messy, take them away...
How do you plot? Is it easier?