Dream-plotting

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Available online from Out of Print (or try your public library's Friends of the Library store).

Last night I dreamed that I was having coffee at a window bar in a coffee shop when a person approached me hesitatingly and asked if I was a writer. I was wearing my Plot tshirt (an orange triangle representing Freytag’s Pyramid and the word “Plot”), and the person (who was genderless in my dream) said they were trying to be a writer too but weren’t sure about plot structure — they pointed to my shirt.

I invited them to sit on the stool next to me and I grabbed a napkin and started talking about how that pyramid isn’t the only way to tell a story. I drew a line on the napkin and talked about plot points and act structure from my old screenwriting class in grad school. I talked about Vonnegut’s shapes and the crayon-outline Vonnegut describes in the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five and how important it is to know where your characters are at any given point in the story. Then I looked up and realized several other people had gathered around. A long-haired teen who reminded me of myself just out of high school but sounded a bit like Lidia Yuknavitch said, “Isn’t all this just a load of crap, though? I thought we’d moved beyond plot. Lines and structure are for hacks and old-timers, man. To hell with all that! Just do your art!”

I had a weird moment of crisis in which I worried I’d become too rigid and formulaic in my work, and I stared at my napkin with all its shapes and intersecting lines. I turned it over to the clean side and stared at that. I started talking about organicism (that’s the word I used in my dream) and letting stories happen like life, about the importance of embracing the unpredictable.

But then I thought about the reading experience and how unsettling and irritating it sometimes feels to read stream-of-consciousness, about all the work involved in trying to keep up with a writer’s brain as words just spill onto the page. I made new lines amd shapes on the napkin, talked about how we ought to know as much as we can about our characters and our world and the broad-stroke events in our narratives so even when our stories surprise us, the surprises still make sense; I talked about how the best stories make the scripted feel unscripted and the organic feel organized. Then I woke up.

And now I want to get to work on my novels: now I want to get to know my characters and see where they take me; now I want to arrange my world so I can knock it all down and find the natural patterns in the disarray.

Now I want write.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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