El Dorado on the lawn!

((Post title courtesy of OK Go’s “Crash the Party” from the album Oh No, to which I have been listening heavily for the past week or so, thanks to the generosity of the inimitable SuperD.)) One of the benefits of being a state employee is that we get quite a few holidays, including today in honor of Veterans Day. ((We also got last Tuesday off for Election Day. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. The considerable downside, of course, is that every day we’re not there or the court is closed for any reason means at least a day or two extra in jail for someone…. )) Now that I have about 13 whole clients ((Yes, I know 13 clients is nothing. I’m starting slowly, obviously.)), my head spins almost constantly with all the different questions I have about each case, e.g.: What are my client’s sentencing options? What is a reasonable deal for this case? What would the prosecutor ask for if we went to trial and lost? What would a judge be likely to give? If we just admit these probation violations will there be any possibly way to avoid prison time? All of these are questions I’ve been trying to answer in the next week, not to mention the countless hours I’ve spent trying to figure out how to do something as simple as getting a subpoena duces tecum (basically a request for documents). You’d think that would be easy and well-established, but then, if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

So work has been challenging, engrossing, sometimes stressful, frustrating, and highly educational recently. I’ll have to go in this weekend to get some ducks lined up for next week, but today, on this holiday, I’m trying to focus on the “novel.” Sadly, since last weekend’s burst of noveling goodness, the writing has been basically not happening. I’m stuck on where my crazy dystopian future is going, I don’t have any well-developed characters that I really care about or understand, there’s nothing at stake for anyone except in a big abstract sense that no reader would yet understand or care about, and basically the thing’s a mess. My goal this year has been to, for once, produce a story w/a beginning, a middle and an end. so I’ve just been trying to move forward to get the basic pieces in place. The trouble is, if that’s your goal, you still have to know what the pieces are.

When I’m stuck w/writing, I often turn to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. There I can almost always find something to get me moving again, and this time is no exception. To help get through plot problems, she suggests an idea she learned from Alice Adams:

She said that sometimes she uses a formula when writing a short story which goes ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people so that we learn what they care most about. The plot—the drama, the actions, the tension—will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which thigns are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?

So there you have it: ABDCE. I’ve got a little of A in the first 10k words, and B and D could probably take up a good 20k more if I can just figure out what they are, exactly, and try to make them interesting. Then I’ll just have to hope that about 20k words from now I’ve figured out what C will be, and E will take care of itself. Right? Right?

Would it be cheating if I just copied this blog entry into my novel as “notes”?

4 thoughts on “El Dorado on the lawn!”

  1. Goodness! Why Kafka? Are you trying to torture yourself? Ok, it’s good stuff, in a very depressing way, so not exactly what I’d pick for vacay, but if you insist, I can only tell you that I have only read “Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.” Of those, the first is by far the most readable. “The Trial” made me feel so claustrophobic and frustrated that I wanted to scream, so if that sounds like fun, by all means, take it with you. “Metamorphosis,” on the other hand, is short enough that even though it produces the same feelings, you can get through them much easier and then think about all the ways in which you yourself might be a bug, or an alien, in this strange world of ours. It’s kind of fun, at least insofar as Kafka can be called fun….

    If you’re looking for good vacation reading that makes you think, might I suggest “The Handmaid’s Tale”? Depressing? Sure, but much more readable than Kafka and just a damned fine book.

    Where do you get to go?

  2. Frolics: Yeah, they’re really spoiling me. I’m up to 20-something clients now; I don’t know what I’d do w/163! Mine are all felonies, though, and about 15 of 20 are currently incarcerated so the pressure’s on. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

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