I'd just finished Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster, intrigued by a snippet from that book used in this blog post by Dora Goss. Several sections of the book struck me, the comparison of story versus plot, and (of course) the discussion on patterns and rhythm, which I like to call story architecture (not to try and one-up Forster, yegads). Having finished reading Forster's explanations of how these elements work in a piece of writing, something shifted in my brain, and I got the ping. I've known I was an architectural writer for a long time. To me, stories have structure and shape and movement within that adds a layer of meaning that wouldn't otherwise be there. I can tell a linear story, but in doing so, I lose some of my layering. I can tell parallel stories, and that creates the possibility of additional meaning in the echo between the parallels. I can tell a chain story, that loops back to beginning, to create resonance. I can tell a parallel story with one track going backward and one track going forward to create yet a different effect that adds to the meaning without me needing to point things out. This structure is to create a sense of irony! This structure is to create a sense of inevitable death! And so on.
If I sit down and merely follow "where a story goes" I end up with a story, that is, a series of events. Some writers can magically create plot that somehow works with the story as it unfolds, but I don't seem to do this. I start with character, and then go to plot (why something would happen), because I get to the "what" part, which is what actions the people take. Sometimes, my stories are almost all plots, and the story is a loose frame. The characters don't actually do much. A story blurb is all but useless. "A woman kicks around in her house, fretting. A muse moves in next door. She watches the muse through the window, then takes off her clothes." Not much of a story here. I could make this into a story, where she and the muse ride off into the sunset, happily after after, but that's not what I'm getting at. I want to know the "why," and the "why" is plot.
My napkin sketch for the new story doesn't look like much, but it very much is a sketch in the sense that it's a word-structure. This POV comes first, this second, and this third. Here are the overlaps and parallels. Here is the merge that holds the plot. Here are my people and my setting. Here are my bones. Now the bones need meat. In my perspective, the hard work on this story has been done already, and now all I need is to color between the lines. The times when I've started coloring first, I have been lost. I don't like meandering around lost, any more than a wanderer likes an itinerary.
Today, I am happy with my sketchbook.