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.