Incite a Riot!

For many years, I’ve been a seat-of-my-pants kind of fiction writer. Heck, I’ve even bragged about it, at times. You know the type of thing: “Oh, I prefer to be organic and let the muse speak to me. I couldn’t possibly be tied down to something as rigid and prosaic as an outline.”

Then I asked myself  “How’s that workin’ out for you?”
And the answer?
Let’s just say there might have been some tearing of hair, gnashing of teeth, and maybe even a little fetal position crying. Not well, in other words.

But, as my beloved Nina would say, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And that means smartening up and having a plan. At least a little one. In my research into this new endeavor (before I got too far along on the current project), I found a most excellent tic-tac-toe plotting method, which C.J. Omolulu beautifully explains in her blog. With zeal, excitement, and determination, I sat down to make said grid, only to get stuck immediately. Because Box # 1 – the “inciting incident” – made me realize I didn’t have a clue what that was. At first, it seemed perfectly straightforward. I promise you – it’s not. I trawled the Internet for several hours, only to discover hundreds of other people equally as clueless as I. While movie/play examples abound, none of them were really applicable, and in some cases, the definitions/examples/etc. were flat-out wrong.

Then I discovered Les Edgerton’s blog post on inciting incidents. Hallelujah! I have seen the light! The man is a genius, for not only defining the inciting incident very clearly (The inciting incident is something that happens to the protagonist that creates and/or reveals the story problem to her), but also for so thoughfully analyzing others’ writing, and using an example that made beautiful, wonderful, writerly sense. Check it out. I bet you’ll be surprised. Or is it just me? Please share!


Log Lines Suck

Can I just admit how much I hate writing log lines? Query letter? No problem. Synopsis? Piece of cake. But log lines? Ugh. They’re my bete noire – even with a solid storyline, I have trouble writing them.

Why? Some of it is undoubtedly just me being pissy: all that marketing-yourself stuff makes me grumpy. And some of it is my dislike of appropriating tips and tricks from the screenwriting/film genre (from which log lines came), especially those that don’t transfer well to written literature. Am I alone in thinking that boiling down your magnum opus to a hook like “It’s Titanic meets Harry Potter!” not only denigrates your own work, making it seem derivative, but also smacks of the absurd? The combinations so often sound silly, and you’re basically calling to mind other people’s artworks in lieu of describing your own.

Ah, but I’m tangenting, trying to dodge truthfully answering the why-do-I-suck-at-writing-log-lines question. Aside from it just being plain old hard to capture the essence of a work in one sentence, I don’t like that log lines can break your heart. Really, they can.

Imagine, if you will, finally completing your first novel. You know, the one that you picked up and put down for over ten years, working on it in dribs and drabs as life’s vicissitudes allowed. The one you poured a lot of heart and fear and hope into. The one that somehow proved you could actually do it, you could actually accomplish writing a book. You glow for a while, riding high on I-finally-did-it endorphins, before putting on your marketing hat and getting down to the business of submitting. All goes well until you try to draft a log line and discover you can’t. And the reason you can’t is because the story refuses to be boiled down. And the reason it refuses to be boiled down is because there are problems. Lots and lots of problems. Big problems. So big as to make you realize that you’ve written something not only unsalable, but also not very good.