Formula One?

Before beginning the post itself, I’m happy to report that my piece on agreeing to disagree on matters of faith is in the July/August issue of Spirituality & Health, hot off the presses!  As I write this, the piece isn’t yet online, but I hope it shows up there soon.  Otherwise, you can look for it the old-fashioned print way.

Here’s the post:

Saved cats.
Two pillars.
Four themes.
Three juggling balls.
Eight points.
A snowflake.

No, it’s not a found poem, though it could be.  What these six items have in common?

They’re all formulas for story structure.  I put out a call yesterday at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, where I have an office, for advice on what to do.  I’m stuck.  Stuck.  Stuck.  Stuck.


I’ve revised my novel (not for the first time) and have about 75 pages go to.  I’ve written those pages already, but I know they’re not working.  I need to think outside what’s already written.  I need to try big changes.  I need a formula.  As wary as I am of reductive  formulas, I’ve decided one or two might help.

I’ve tried outlines and timelines and index cards and flowcharts.  Now I envision scattering them in the air, like playing cards in a game of 52-Pickup or Smoke, Smoke, Fire.  Seeing where things land, seeing if new connections form.  Does the queen have to follow the jack?  What does she look like next to the 2?

I’m holding my deck, ready to fire. My Grotto colleagues have come forth with quite a few good recommendations—the Plot Whisperer, Robert McKee’s book on screenwriting, Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting, and others.

I’m not starting from scratch. I’ve got my story, my conflict, my characters, my anguished question (what all successful fiction starts with, Wallace Stegner reportedly said).  What I don’t have—yet—is a clear, compelling climax and resolution. I’ve got several ideas for one, and it’s hard to see past them to something new and clarifying.

Part of the problem is that I’ve got more than one protagonist.  I’ve got four characters with “death stakes,” four characters with their own discoveries to make.  Yes, they’re interrelated, but still.  Every see a ball of tangled yarn?

But here’s the thing:  I’m convinced that the solution lies in that tangled yarn.  That the cat’s cradle of Eileen & Jeremy & Chris & Naomi will, once I find the pattern, knit together the right ending.  So I’m looking at pattern books.

I’d love to hear what’s worked—or not—for you.

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