Chapter Nine Other Questions

Familiar with the five basic ingredients of category fiction—a strong plot, a real hero or heroine, believable character motivation, a great deal of action, and a colorful background—and having learned the fundamentals of each category, you will have other things to consider, things of a lesser magnitude than those already discussed but nevertheless also vital to the quality of the finished work. Most of these do not present problems unique to category fiction, though they are none the less important for their literary universality. We'll consider each in a general way, and, where necessary consider each as it applies in a special way to one or more of the genres.

Plot wheels, plot cards, and story construction lists, all of those devices one time on sale to help writers get ideas, are utterly useless for the serious fiction craftsman. Writing, after all, is an art as well as a craft, requiring emotional involvement on the artist's part, a commitment you are clearly not ready to make if you think such a mechanical plotting system will be valuable to you.

Likewise, if you attempt to build stories from newspaper clippings, you are fooling yourself if you believe you can establish a body of respectable work in this manner. Some writers have sold stories generated by human interest newspaper clippings; indeed, one writer I know of has sold more than two dozen stories that originated like this. Rarely, however, are these pieces good fiction: because the most engaging newspaper human interest stories revolve around a quirk of Fate or coincidence, the final plot of the fictionalized version is forced or outright incredible. You also run the risk of using a clipping that is being simultaneously developed by another writer, one who—if the idea is saleable-may hit the proper market before you and effectively render your work dated and imitative. The world of writers is not so small that this is unlikely. I know of three different cases where it happened, making the unlucky author's work useless.

Plot wheels and newspaper clippings can't provide you, either, with a genuine concern for your characters and their situation. For that, your story people and their milieu must come from within you, based on your personal experiences, revolving around lessons and truths you have learned.

This doesn't mean you must write only about what you have done yourself. Obviously, that would badly limit any writer. "Personal experiences" may include things that have happened to you, to friends, to others you've heard about; things you've learned from books, movies, television, radio, school, and other sources. Everyone is a witches' cauldron of bubbling facts, ideas, images, and memories. You must learn to tap this magical brew and order the unconscious plots within it.

You can learn to open this inner storehouse in many ways, though I've found the following two methods to be the most rewarding. I have frequently used both since sold my first story and recently developed my forty-second novel with the second method.

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