It took me all day to rework the chapter material and add to other chapters. Finally, The Wizard of Santa Monica is complete. That was a challenging story to tackle.
In total, the novella came to about 33,000 words. It has been with me since 2009 and maybe earlier; I finished a number of drafts before it became part of The Wizards in 2013. That led to the problematic draft I wasn't been able to finish until today.
So, why was it so difficult to finish?
I could not nail down the plot.
Yes, I want to discuss the elements of fiction again. Now, when I said plot just now there are a number of ideas that usually come to mind. I say a number because, as I said a long, long time ago, writers cannot decide on a definitive list of elements in fiction! Sure, there are the usual suspects like setting and character, but for the most part, every writer has their own list.
And even when the elements are the same on a list, the way they are interpreted are not. Take for instance these two definitions of premise (an element of fiction not usually included in most lists):
1) This premise is the underlying idea of your story--the foundation that supports your entire plot. (from Writer's Digest.com).
2) A story premise, along with its tool, the premise line, is a container that holds the essence of your story’s right, true and natural structure. (from writermag.com)
Similar definitions, right? The difference is in the examples they give. Look at these:
1) For instance, the premise of The Three Little Pigs is “Foolishness leads to death, and wisdom leads to happiness.” (It”s not three little pigs get scared by a wolf and make bad building decisions.) (from writer's digest.com)
2) When a fish-out-of-water, big-city cop moves to a small, coastal town dependent on tourism, he must team with an oceanographer and a crusty sailor to convince the doubting, money-grubbing townsfolk to close their beaches because a giant, man-eating shark is lurking just offshore, until the shark strikes, forcing the townsfolk to allow the cop and his buddies to take on the shark mano-a-mano. (from writermag.com)
*Writer mag gives the premise of the movie "Jaws." I will call that paragraph a premise since it is closer to my preference of the meaning of the word premise.
Those examples are sooo different from one another! They represent opposite ideas, even though the definitions of premise they gave are similar. What this says is that writers view the elements of fiction differently based on their preferences.
What I will say about plot reflects my preferences on the subject.
Here are a few definitions of plot as a fiction element:
1) Plot –- the major events that move the action in a narrative. It is the sequence of major events in a story, usually in a cause-effect relation. (from csulb.edu)
2) Plot refers to the series of events that give a story its meaning and effect. (from bedfordstmartins.com)
3) All fiction is based on conflict and this conflict is presented in a structured format called PLOT. There are a number of different elements to a plot. They include: Exposition, foreshadowing, inciting force, conflict, etc. etc. etc. (from nps.gov)
4) Plot is what happens in a work of fiction, and the order that it happens in. (from creative-writing-now.com)
All the definitions deal with events described in a story. There is also some concern with the order in which these events appear in the story. Some definitions even mention other ideas, like conflict and a cause-effect relationship between the events.
And if you're a visual writer, there is Freytag's triangle which is a graphical representation of a plot (by most definitions). Freytag or Freitag, it really doesn't matter.
Look at that thing! It's adorable. Some graphical representations show a hump, a curve, like a roller coaster ride. I liken this type of writing to a sex act because, let's face it, after the male climaxes it's all over. It is no accident I'm comparing this to a male sexual experience; Gustav Freitag was a male novelist and this type of plotting depends on building tension until there is a release at the climax (all sexual talk).
*Side Note: Imagine what a plot would look like if writers used the female sexual experience instead!
Here is the exact same structure but drawn in a circle (attributed to Joseph Campbell):
You can see the similarities.
Most genre fiction books use the triangle plot diagram. It is often said that genre books are plot heavy, but if you look at the diagram, what that means is that genre books use a very noticeable plot strategy. Each event in the plot leads towards that climax; action heavy books will have major sequences at the climax--including the showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist.
Not all books are written like this. And yes, I know, I know, your Creative Writing teacher said all books build towards some kind of climax (even if it's a small one). I'm never sure what they mean by that.
However, it is a serviceable tool for simple novels. Complex novels (like War and Peace) use other strategies.
What I find in the stories that fall under the "Literary" category are revelations that develop the main character(s), not climaxes in action. The reason is that this type of story tries to retain a level of realism that makes it (in appearances) closer to life.
If I had to plot someone's life, it would look like this:
The beginning would be the birth of the person and the end point would be that person's death. The arrow points to a high point in that person's life. Maybe it was their marriage or a new job. What is the cliche? Life is full of ups and downs?
Plotting in fiction attempts to mimic what this graph shows. It artificially looks at particular points in a fictional person's life, the ones that contribute to the overall effect the writer desires. It is not a "singular effect," like Poe said was a characteristic of short stories, but it is a desired effect.
*Side Note: that is actually the graph of an irregular heartbeat, which I thought would make an excellent graphical representation of a person's life*
A rough premise of The Wizard of Santa Monica is: Danny Nash is a homeless thief who lives in his beat up Firebird and dreams of becoming like Robin Hood. When he saves the life of another homeless man, he nearly loses his. Unbeknownst to him, the man he saves is a self-proclaimed wizard who takes him to a lonesome mansion to heal. There, Danny meets Esmeralda, Karen and the man who saved him, Quique. Together, they tell him the tragic history of the group of children that once lived there, learned there; these were boys and girls who called their power magic and themselves wizards.
I used Wuthering Heights as inspiration for the structure of the novel. If you don't know, in Wuthering Heights, a number of characters tell another character stories from the past. The narrative switches from Third Person to First Person (when a character shares his/her recollections).
There is an overarching plot to Wuthering Heights: Lockwood rents a place in the moors owned by Heathcliff, doesn't like it, goes back to London for a while, comes back to the moors for a bit and then returns back to London. It is such a mundane plot that it's amazing that it coats one of my favorite love stories. The sub-plot is more important and deals with the history of Heathcliff in the moors and his failed love for Catherine Earnshaw.
It is not uncommon for a novel to have a number of plots. Sometimes, like in Wuthering Heights, there is a main plot and an overarching plot. For this reason, it is difficult for me to see how a novel is supposed to build to a point called a climax, when each plot is its own separate entity.
In The Wizard of Santa Monica, the premise changed often as I wrote and rewrote it over the years, but the overarching plot always dealt with the homeless man, Danny Nash, and the sub-plot dealt with the wizard children.
I see now that it was problematic for me to keep changing the premise. Once you change a premise, it more or less throws your plot into chaos.
An earlier premise of The Wizard of Santa Monica was: Danny Nash is a homeless thief who lives in his beat up Firebird and dreams of becoming like Robin Hood. When he saves the life of another homeless man, he nearly loses his. Unbeknownst to him, the man he saves is a self-proclaimed wizard who uses his power to heal him. The wizard leaves and Danny becomes obsessed with finding him again. He embarks on a journey across Southern California's homeless communities, always one step behind the wizard. The only evidence of the wizard's presence are the number of stories he tells those he comes across; they tell the tragic story of a group of children under the care of a man named Wendell the Great, who could wield unimaginable power they called magic.
Another obstacle came from the overall plot of The Wizards, which is the entire collection of wizard short stories/novellas. The Wizard of Santa Monica is only one story in The Wizards.
It helps me now to talk about this.
And what's next for me, you ask? I am looking to start the LAX story as early as next week. I'm giving up my Valentine's day fun (no love parties for me!). Even now, I'm going over the material I have for it.
I'm very excited to finally be here.
LC / LA