Some writers, critics, and other assorted literati sniff at plotting as a tool of craft. A synonym of plotting, in this mindset, is slumming, something decent people just don’t do.
—James Scott Bell
Whose seminar I attended this morning in Burbank for almost 3 hours, using my hair to cover my right eye so no one would notice the burst blood vessel I received from yesterday’s yoga session (that’s what I get for not remembering to breathe in the Superman pose). My stomach wouldn’t stop growling. Loudly. I think it was agitated by the aroma of the free mints on the table I sat near, and the fact that I’d had only a smoothie for breakfast. I heard my stomach. So did others. I also heard the following: LOCK SYSTEM. A great plot is the record of how a character deals with death. Why is something a formula??? Because it works!!! At this point I suddenly became distracted by a movie poster of Scream 3 on the wall. Was that Chris Rock’s face? From where I sat I couldn’t read the credits. I began obsessing on whether or not it was, in fact, Chris Rock and if it was, what the he** was he doing in a Scream 3. I haven’t seen Scream 3 (obviously). I haven’t even seen Scream 2. But I had to know if it was Chris Rock. I HAD TO KNOW. Since the classroom was smallish and I was seated in the 2nd row, it suddenly occurred to me that JSB might notice that I was craning my neck and squinting at the poster. My stomach growled. My red eye twitched. I pulled myself together and floated back into the seminar. And I heard: Q FACTOR! Translation software for your imagination. Types of lead characters. Pet the dog. Beginning. Middle. End. THE STAKES MUST BE DEATH. At this point, I really wanted to look at that poster again—but I didn’t. Instead, I heard (and copied down) a quote by Robert Newton Peck: A plot is two dogs and one bone. Clips from City Slickers, Moonstruck and The Fugitive were interspersed between more advice and more quotes, such as this one by Alfred Hitchcock: A great story is life with the dull parts taken out. Oh, I gleaned much today, startled to discover that aspects of the “formula” referred to throughout the seminar actually live in my children’s novel–which was written organically, with non-organic coffee standing by and not a plot-sheet in sight. As I mentioned earlier, reading about craft, attending lectures and seminars on craft? Difficult for me. But I’m making myself read and listen because it’s just not a bad idea to revisit some basics. Plus, I wouldn’t have been given the wonderful term PET THE DOG if I had skipped the seminar (my monster eye, general fatigue—I have good excuses to be a homebody and honor a certain little man’s request to sit in his room of primary colors and play with the Bat Cave). JSB is a thorough lecturer. And he’s read The Hunger Games. In fact, I think he’s read every book on the planet and seen every movie ever made. He is a walking/lecturing resource. Go see him if you can.