18 July 2010

All Writers Need Plot

On my way to this weekend's SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) writers retreat, I stopped by my sister's house in Mill Valley. She then followed me to San Rafael and took me to Sol Food for lunch. Our waitress was a gorgeous, young woman who sported a tattoo that ran from her wrist to nearly the crook of her arm. The stick figure, obviously a girl by the triangle skirt she wore, had a star over her head and was a copy of the cover of Jerry Spinelli's book, Stargirl (I use this as a book example in the Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master).

When asked, the waitress explained that the protagonist of the book was her best friend as a child (the book first came out in 2000). Her emotional affection even after all these years for the character in a 50 page book was a poignant reminder of the power of the work we put out into the world and a wonderful prelude to the retreat for children's writers.

Every genre of fiction and memoir writing needs a good plot. Thus, I have had the honor teaching plot at every kind of writers conference, chapter and branch meetings, and universities, and have found every group has its own special "vib".

Keep in mind the following are generalizations and are based on the writers who attend my plot workshops. Okay, okay. They are gross generalizations and are by no means meant to offend anyone!

1) RWA or Romance Writers of America writers as a whole are stylishly coiffured women, manicured and neatly dressed. They ask polite questions and withhold judgment.

2) Literary writers tend toward wearing black clothes and their hair long and straight. They often challenge ideas offered and have a tendency to frown.

3) Memoir writers are often rumpled and disheveled. They scribble notes and wear an air of expectancy.

4) Mystery writers are usually quiet, a bit solitary, and keep their ideas to themselves.

5) Fantasy writers wear whimsical and brightly colored clothes. They tend to laugh a lot.

6) Screenwriters fidget and their eyes wander. They seem to prefer information flowing fast and furiously.

After this past weekend's retreat in San Rafael offered by SCBWI, I was again reminded of how special children's book writers are and how they belong in a class of their own.

This group of writers was similar to others in the SCBWI organization I have taught plot to in the past in that many of the writers who attended my plot workshop were elementary and secondary teachers, parents of young children, and/or employed in the creative arts. These writers, too, were similar in their unabashed warmth and enthusiasm and support of my plot ideas and me, even those more right-brained learners who struggled mightily with the concepts but never gave up.

I left the retreat yesterday wrapped in a feeling of joy and hope for the future. The stories these writers craft have the potential to do for young people what Jerry Spinelli did for our young waitress, provide a safe haven for those who feel painfully different, offer a feeling of hope for the future, and a sense of belonging in this great wide world of ours, one that is filled with as many different kinds of people as there are people.