When I first started writing, I had more ideas than I knew what to do with. The thing I discovered, though, is that not all ideas are created equal. Some can carry a short story, some die if you try to write more than 10,000 words, and some sag under the weight of a novel. My friend, Mae Clair, wrote a witty blog post about which plot ideas to keep and which to toss back. Mae’s suspense novel came out on Tuesday, and I’m halfway through reading it. Thank goodness she heard the legend of the Mothman and used that as an idea for a mystery–more than enough heft to support an absorbing plot line. I’m loving it! So, here’s Mae to help us decide which ideas are keepers. And happy fishing!
Fishing for Plots by Mae Clair
Hello and many thanks to Judith for inviting me to be a guest on her blog! I’ve come equipped with a writing topic today that relates to various types of plots.
Early in our marriage, my husband introduced me to flounder fishing. That attachment eventually evolved into crabbing, clamming, and a long stretch of boat ownership, but in the beginning, it was all about catching the coveted flounder.
I’d never been fishing in my life the first time he took me out. I learned early on there were several types of fish and sea critters apt to go after the bait I dangled into the water, but not all were desirable. Recently, I started thinking about fish in terms of plot. Sound crazy? Let me put it in perspective:
When you’re fishing for flounder, just about everything else falls into the category of “junk fish.” The most common junk fish we’d hook were sea robins. These guys are never going to win a beauty contest. They’re prehistoric-looking with legs, spines that inject poison, and wing-like fins. They also croak like a frog and will complain loudly when caught. I always thought they had pretty blue eyes, an opinion not shared by my husband.
Junk plots are much the same. Pull one from your writer’s hat and you quickly realize no matter how you tweak it, you can’t make it work. It might have some redeeming value (like the sea robin’s pretty blue eyes) but, in the end, all you can do is toss it back into the plot bin and fish for another.
Hard Shell Crabs
You’d be surprised how many hard shells go after a fishing line. In the beginning, we considered them a nuisance (they make nasty work of your bait). Then we realized we could steam them and have stuffed flounder. After that, any (legal) hard shell that wandered onto our lines was fair game. It wasn’t long before we were baiting and setting crab pots, collecting them in earnest.
Hard shell crabs are the plots that start out looking hopeless, but with polish and attention turn into gems. It takes some work to get them to that point, but when you do, they’re golden!
These guys rarely got snagged in the bay. When they did they were (thankfully) on the small side. My husband once caught one that was about eighteen inches. When they’re that size, they bedazzle, flashing bright silver in the sun. Very pretty.
You know this plot, right? The one that beguiles you with possibility. You’re enraptured by it, treating it like a prized jewel—until you realize it can’t be manipulated to fit your needs. It blinds you with its beauty, but once you return to writer terra-firm, it becomes fool’s gold. Back into the plot bin it goes.
There was always a lot of excitement when we hooked a flounder. It’s why we’d spend 5-6 hours tooling around the bay, burning in the sun, maneuvering through channels and getting swamped in bigger wake.
Flounder is the ideal writer’s plot. Perfection. Oh, you might have to filet it to work it the way you want, but you know you’ve got a winner as soon as you hook it.
I haven’t been flounder fishing in many years now, but I remember those times with extreme fondness. Twenty years of boating results in a lot of tale—and a lot of fish!
Here’s hoping you find more flounder than sea robins when you go fishing for plots. How do you think my comparisons stack up?
While you’re considering, I hope you’ll take a look at my newest book, A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS, a mystery/suspense novel combining history, urban legend and fiction.
Here’s a look at the blurb:
A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS
Behind a legend lies the truth…
As a child, Eve Parrish lost her father and her best friend, Maggie Flynn, in a tragic bridge collapse. Fifteen years later, she returns to Point Pleasant to settle her deceased aunt’s estate. Though much has changed about the once thriving river community, the ghost of tragedy still weighs heavily on the town, as do rumors and sightings of the Mothman, a local legend. When Eve uncovers startling information about her aunt’s death, that legend is in danger of becoming all too real…
Caden Flynn is one of the few lucky survivors of the bridge collapse, but blames himself for coercing his younger sister out that night. He’s carried that guilt for fifteen years, unaware of darker currents haunting the town. It isn’t long before Eve’s arrival unravels an old secret—one that places her and Caden in the crosshairs of a deadly killer…
A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS is available from:
Mae Clair has been chasing myth, monsters and folklore through research and reading since she was a child. In 2013 and 2015, she journeyed to West Virginia to learn more about the legendary Mothman, a creature who factors into her latest release.
Mae pens tales of mystery and suspense with a touch of romance. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lives in Pennsylvania and numbers cats, history and exploring old graveyards among her passions. Look for Mae on her website at MaeClair.net where you can sign-up for her newsletter.