Writing: Fishing for Ideas with Mae Clair

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!

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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:

Junk Fish

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!

Sand Sharks

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.

Flounder

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.

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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:

Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Yesteryears-Point-Pleasant-ebook/dp/B0138NHJ4A

B & N
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-thousand-yesteryears-mae-clair/1122454905?ean=9781601837776

Kobo
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-thousand-yesteryears

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mae_Clair_A_Thousand_Yesteryears?id=kY9KCgAAQBAJ&hl=en

iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-thousand-yesteryears/id1050516745?mt=11

Kensington Publishing
http://www.ekensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/32298

Mae Clair

 

Author Bio:

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.

 

Connect with Mae Clair at the following haunts:
Website
Blog
Twitter (@MaeClair1)
Google+
Facebook Author Page
Amazon Author Page
Sign up for Mae’s newsletter:
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Writing Backwards

When I wrote mysteries, I always started with an idea that hooked me.  Some odd thought would snag my imagination, and it wouldn’t let go until I built scenes around it.  The scenes told me what type of character I was going to follow through that particular story.  Sometimes, I’d get so gung-ho, I’d rush into writing.  At that stage of my craft, rushing was a mistake.  Almost every story I started, when I didn’t have an ending in mind, lacked the tension and punch my stories–with endings in mind–had.  I’ve written for so long now, I don’t need to plot as hard as I once did–at least, not on paper.  Because now, the rhythm and twists are so internalized, they’re just part of the process.

A friend read some of my stories and said, “I could never write these.  How do you come up with so many ideas?”  “But it’s easy,” I told her, “if you know the end and write backwards.”  And it’s true.  You have a beginning, and if you know the end, you just need to figure out how to get there.  If it’s a mystery, you can sprinkle in clues and red herrings along the way, because you know which things ARE clues.  You know who did it and why.  Same holds true for most stories you write.  But middles can still be muddles, so that’s why I fiddled around until I found what works for me.

I spelled out my plotting technique in an earlier blog, but basically, I divide  a story (whatever it’s length) into four parts.  And I know how the story will end, so….

The first fourth is set-up:

1.  One heck of a hook–whatever grabs the reader and pulls him in.  (It doesn’t have to be in-your-face to do this).

2.  Introduce the main & minor characters through action–not back story.

3.  The inciting incident and big story question (both external and internal).

3.  The setting has to contribute to that particular story’s tone/mood/plot.  Show it through the protagonist’s POV, what it means to him.

4.  For novels, I introduce 1 or 2 subplots that deal with the same theme as the main plot.

5.  A direction the protagonist goes in, thinking he’ll resolve his problem and make his world right again.

6.  At the end of the set-up, he discovers his solution won’t work or that his problem’s bigger than he ever thought.

After the set-up, I think of at least 2 more plot twists and try to put the first twist in the middle of the story and the next twist close to the 3/4 mark.  Then for the last fourth of the story, I tie things up and finish what I already put in place–rushing toward my ending.

This technique took something unwieldy (writing an entire novel) and broke it into smaller pieces that make it easier for my brain to hold.  Until, that is, I got bored doing the same-old, same-old.  And I decided to write a novel where I knew the beginning and I knew the end, but my goal for myself after the set-up was to try to put my protagonist in as much trouble as I could get her in, scene after scene, and then get her out of trouble by asking myself, “What would the reader never expect to happen here?”

I wrote the book.  A friend read it.  A small publisher even took it and then went out of business.  (Not my book’s fault.  Lack of money).  And my friend said, “Hmmm, my daughter loved it, but it sure isn’t your usual writing, is it?”  Not a compliment, but I had to laugh.  No, it wasn’t my usual writing, and that was the point.  I learned a lot from that book (not that I recommend writing books to experiment with unless you really don’t care if it’s published or not.  At that point in my life, writing was still a hobby to me, my “me” time.  I wrote and sent books, but wasn’t really surprised if no one took them).  But that book gave me a wonderful sense of freedom.

Before, I tried really hard to write like my favorite authors wrote, to do as they did.  When I gave myself permission to ask, “What do I want to do now?” and it could be anything, I came up with plot twists and scenes I’d never considered before.  Not that it made for a great book, but it made for a fun one.  So now, I make a habit of using the Rule of Three.  (I’ve heard Shirley Jump on panels and in workshops, and she uses the Rule of Six.  If I’d have heard her first, maybe I’d have tried harder, but she’s smarter than I am, or maybe I’m lazier, so three works for me).  Anyway, when I come to a culmination scene now (where I’ve laid the ground work for it and, hopefully, the reader’s waiting to see what happens), I try NOT to go with my first idea–the obvious.  I try to think of a second and a third result that’s feasible, but unexpected, and I go with that.

So my technique now?  I still use the four part strategy for stories, but I give myself more wiggle room.  I try to suprise myself more often.  My advice to new writers?  Find what works for you and have fun!