The last exercise from chapter one talks about all the little things that make a story amazing, on top of plot. They key here being writing plot-first doesn’t stifle creativity. Since everything you add on top is you.
For example, the recipe for making an omelette is pretty much set in stone. Crack eggs over a pan. Add ingredients. Fold. And serve. Mr Bell argues that because no two omelettes are the same, neither are our stories — even if they follow the same structure. I cook my omelettes with three types of herbs, and I beat the eggs first, and sometimes I add too much cheese. That’s me.
As for stories, true, I don’t want them to get boring, no way. Yet, I might as well study how the bots churn them out HAH or the masters. That’s what this exercise is all about.
. . .
Start a collection of your favorite “spices” from the novels you read. (I’ll do the novel I’m reading, plus the last two.) Look for . . . analyze them. Why do they work? What techniques did the author use?
The Handmaid’s tale: not really liking the story so far, but I really dig the fact that it’s a clear USA but in a foreseeable future. It’s relatable and possible. The author uses vivid detail, in describing tv celebrities and religion, to make a puritanical America real.
Little Women: my favorite setting is the woods outside the house . . . when Laurie is bored out of his mind until he sees the four sisters going off on a picnic adventure there. It works because the author built up the anticipation. It’s a surprise for Laurie and for us to see the sisters behaving themselves and going on a mission together, especially after it seemed like they including Laurie in all their games — here was one he didn’t know about. His incorporation into the fun makes it all the more memorable. (In the woods too! Nature!!)
Autobiography of Red: the older brother’s bedroom. It works because I am an older brother and I’m curious about sibling living arrangements. Also it was plot motivated, since Geryon had to move in with the brother for some reason, don’t remember what. And then there is that squeaking of the bed . . . (read it!)
HT: Not really colorful . . . if I had to pick a colorful character I would say Moira, who smokes and bums smokes all the time. Then there is this part when nameless protagonist and her reunite and they scheme to meet in the restroom.
LW: Jo is so freaking colorful. I love her honesty and how she submitted a story to a newspaper. She is intentionally colorful, and with each adventure she gets painted deeper and deeper — especially at the end when she confesses that her older sister isn’t allowed to get married because Jo plans on marrying her. It reminded me of my life . . . and this relateability must come from real life.
AR: The mother of Geryon, another smoker. She is so kind, so angelic, so virginal . . . except she’s off making moves all the time. She really stood out for me because of her deep love for her sons. Love will get me!
Dialogue that zings:
HT: Few zingers in here, but a dialogue I remember is with the nameless protagonist and her medical doctor. Again, I’m not halfway with the book. But that first visit, where he stuck a finger inside of her and offered to get her pregnant . . . “no one will know it was me” was such a loaded moment. The doc gets his, and he helps out a fellow handmaid. It was a win, win . . . yet the dialogue still carried the objective inequity of the whole affair.
LW: There are three back to back conversations that worked really well. When the brown eyed Mr Brooke confesses his love to the beautiful Margaret, and she denies him, although he is all she wants, and he says he will wait for her no matter what — wow — powerful. And then right after Meg denies the guy and he walks away, then comes the Aunt. The aunt says she heard it all and congratulates her niece on denying the poor Mr Brooke. This inspires Meg to defend the man and even confess that she loves him and mind your own business why don’t you. When the aunt leaves, it turns out Mr Brooke was listening to that conversation! And boy oh boy Meg must make up her mind already. But does she? Great triple dialogue.
AR: Not that much great dialogue, although I did like the conversations between Geryon, Herakles (a fuckboy who he likes), and the fuckboy’s new boyfriend (Ancash). The conversations really worked because they were so emotionally charged. A love triangle, where I’m flipping pages trying to see who says what to whom. Old love rekindles, new loves break, someone dies. It’s awesome.
Scenes with tremendous impact:
HT: Why not, let’s say that doctor scene. Not only was the dialogue meaningful, but the whole point of this character’s life according to society is for her to bear children. And here we have a doctor offering to jizz inside of her, which may or may not get her pregnant, an act which may or may not get her killed. She is in there in there precisely because she is not getting pregnant with her sire . . . lots of tension, purpose, narrative value. The best part was the ending. Although she ultimately denies the doc the V, she walks away with a sense of power. For once she has a choice (“you wanna?”) and she draws power from being able to choose. Ladies!? Am I right?!?!? (PS: they are supposed to meet again in a month, so who knows what happens next!!!)
LW: So many, like when Jo gets her story published, or when Laurie gets reprimanded by Mrs March . . . but let’s say the sequence (series of scenes) following Beth’s sickness are mighty powerful. The whole world revolves around this misfortune, at a time when the mother is off in DC nursing the father. This sequence works because it is a matter of life or death, of a loveable character, and the best in everyone comes out. If I had to pick, of course the cathartic ending of that sequence, with Beth coming back to life almost, worked so well, because that’s what I was hoping for all along.
AR: Probably the knockout the Ancash gives Geryon, around the time he discovers he’s been blowing his ex-boyfriend, also that he is a monster with wings, and also while they are on a freaking volcano, in a world that harbors superstitions. It ends in their all becoming friends, too. Funny enough.