Plodding along with plots

There’s this notion that if one gets to the middle and the story is awful to keep going and just finish the thing. I’m sure this is well-meaning, and I imagine it works great if you have a great story idea going. Or even a mediocre story. Or, any story, really. A story you can keep going even if it gets a little weird or bad or muddled.  A plot, you can built on, fix, adjust.

I keep starting off with characters. Interesting, multi-dimensional “people” with things they’re up to, but not always things that constitute an actual plot.

So, I get off the rails a lot.

I’ve said before that Davis Groves existed for about twenty years or so before she got a book. Most writers hammer out two or three novels (give or take) before getting published or finding their groove or whatever. Most, too, will write several different stories. I do everything wrong, so I rewrote the plot around Davis about 800 times. The character, even in her early stages, interested me. The rest of what constitutes a “book” seemed to elude me far too long.

There are seven manuscript starts on my hard drive somewhere. Several have a good amount of words in them because I know where they’re going, it’s just not time for them yet. Others? They’re a cast of characters sitting around waiting for my brain to figure out what to do with them.

I’m not a “planner” of anything but road trips. Which might be why the easiest manuscript I wrote, and wrote straight through from beginning to end with not a single day of “what the hell am I doing” sideline stories and character studies and scenes with no discernible purpose, was the one that was basically a long road trip. It’s a “quest” tale of getting lost and finding one’s way home.

In it, Davis is newly fourteen, but frequently tells people she’s still thirteen. Anyone who read All the Bridges Burning knows Davis has a muddy relationship with the truth, and has used aspects of her identity for survival in a multitude of ways. She’s wily and dangerous, but she’s also vulnerable in ways she hates but not so much she won’t try to use them if she thinks she can.

Fourteen-year-old Davis pretty much knows who she is in ways adult Davis, after the events of ATBB doesn’t seem to anymore.

Which might be why the sequel to ATBB has been fighting me. Well, that and Davis isn’t too happy with the current political or cultural landscape and she keeps giving me side-eye like I can do anything about it. I keep reminding her she’s in late-summer/early fall of 2007 and also fictional, but she’s still cranky. She’s also not too crazy about the plot she has to work with. It’s a “mission” she doesn’t want.

As for the other stuff? They need proper plots. I need to get on down to the plot farm and water something, dig around in the dirt, plant the right seeds.

In the meantime, a fellow writer I admire and I have given ourselves a deadline. We’re holding each other to it because I think we both know without doing so, we’ll research interesting topics, write stray short stories (at least she finds homes for hers), and stare at the plot weeds.

Which comes easier for you? Plots? Characters? Short stories? Longer works? Poems about endangered frogs?