March: a Sense of Power

Muahahahaaaahh.
Ahem.

This chapter covers a variety of concepts, from anger to synchronicity to why people would prefer to think there is no God (“Most of us are a lot more comfortable feeling we’re not being watched too closely”).

“Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves.”

This idea of anger as a marker of transgression or trespass also comes up in another book I have been reading of late: Boundaries – which is an example of synchronicity.

I will cheerfully admit that I did most of the work for this chapter fairly early on in the month (i.e. half way through it) and my mind has been elsewhere since.

I was surprised by some of the things which unburied themselves in the “Detective Work”.

“My favourite musical instrument is” the low whistle – which I have never held, let alone learned to play, although I once discovered someone in New Zealand who makes them.

“If I wasn’t so stingy with my artist I’d” buy her (her? my internal artist, like many children, doesn’t seem strongly gendered) some really flash stationery. Maybe some ink-bottles.

Pointless Archaism

“If it didn’t sound so crazy, I’d” write a supermarket musical. What do I have to fear from crazy? One day I’ll do it.

I am haunted by the fear that if I commit to this writing life, if I let the dreamer loose, I won’t be able to keep making myself go back to work.

With the regular exercises, further surprises ensued.
I was supposed to describe 5 traits I like in myself as a child. I came up with one: my ability to pun. (Whether anyone else liked that in me as a child, I know not.)

That was a bit depressing, but I did better in the field of childhood accomplishments (e.g. started reading Agatha Christie at 6 1/2).

Agatha Christie

Habits! If only changing habits was as easy for me as it is for nuns. (Yes, that’s what I was like as a child.) Wasting time online, procrastinating, feeling guilty instead of getting on with things…
Physical habits are relatively easy to break, I think. It’s the ones in your mind that most closely ensnare you.

The lists of people I admire and want to meet (dead or alive) were confusing: great writers such as Chesterton, Lewis and Stoppard; and a rather strange mix of people including the Pimpernels (Scarlet and Tartan), Francis, Fanny Crosby and Edith Cavell.

If anyone can tell me what the common thread is there, I shall be much obliged to you.

In other news, I spent the entire long weekend (four days in New Zealand, Lord be praised!) in Not Writing. I meant to write, but I meant to do many other things, and it turns out four days is only four days long.

One thing which I did mean to do (and did) is create something for my Artist’s Date. It still needs a few finishing touches, but here’s a clue:

Can you guess?

Propping up Plot with a Bukkit

No, that isn’t a typo.

I refer to the late great Vladimir Propp, who had the fascinating idea of classifying plot elements in the same way Linnaeus classified plant life.

His work focussed on the Russian folktale, which he boiled down into 31 plot elements or ‘narratemes’ – not necessarily all present in any one tale, but generally occurring in the same order.

To see what I mean, and have a bit of fun, try this Russian Folktale Generator – you select the narratemes you’d like to include, and the programme comes up with a (varyingly) specific example, forming your very own folktale.

"Nature lends such evil dreams"

This leads me to my next point, because (as you will know once you’ve tried it) the programme may have some great plot ideas – I particularly liked the trail of blood – but great storyteller it ain’t.

So much of writing isn’t the story, after all – it’s how you tell the story. There are a limited number of plots in the world, so we have a fairly good idea what’s going to happen, but we want to know how. Or, in the case of writers like Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, we may even have an inkling howdunnit (or whodunnit), but we go along for the ride anyway because of the telling. Because of the voice.

Take Back To Beat – Gomma Vulcanizzata

Like fingerprints, no two voice prints are the same.

And this is why it is important for a writer to have their own voice (even if it includes myriad subordinate clauses and sentences that start with the word ‘and’). Which leads us neatly around to the subject of Chapter Two in the Artist’s Way – recovering a sense of identity.

To be sure, Julia Cameron is thinking more along the lines of recovering your identity as a writer, but there is also the element of recovering your identity as this writer.

GOT BUKKET?

Like the Walrus and his Bukkit, I am happy to have my writer’s voice back – it’s been away and I missed it.

But to return to Propp, leaving Chapter Two for another post:
as well as the 31 narratemes, such as LACK (They took my bukkit!) and BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION (have you seen my bukkit?) Propp classified 8 character types found in these tales.

These include the hero (our friend the lolrus), the villain (obviously, whoever took the bukkit) and the princess and her father, who, Propp notes, are functionally the same – the sought-after one. (They are the bukkit.)

Now, while I don’t suggest that all stories could or should fit the Russian Folktale structure (bukkits aside), it can be very helpful in sparking new ideas for a saggy plot.

Of course! you cry. Where are the helpers who aid the search for the bukkit?

1765 G takes blue bucket

What – or who – sends my hero off on their journey? Where’s the showdown with the villain? The pursuit with the prize? What false hero tries to purloin the hard-earned reward? What’s a walrus got to do to get his bukkit back? And so on and so forth.

And if all else fails in your attempt to dig yourself out of a plot bog, follow a blood trail – see where it leads.