Premise, Plot and Theme

One of my favorite agent blogs recently posted about plot…how to discern plot from theme from a hook.

I broke out into a cold sweat as I read, memories of AP English returning to haunt me. My mind froze. I was one of those kids who said, “Why can’t we read the story [or poem] for enjoyment? Why do we have to analyze every single detail?” Basically, I just wanted to sit in the back row and read, uninterrupted.

I gritted my teeth at the kids in the front row (you know who you are, Mrs. Blauvelt’s class of ’89) who raised their hands – ooh! ooh! pick me! pick me! I know exactly what Dylan Thomas meant when he wrote In the White Giant’s Thigh. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me! I know the answer to symbolism in Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

In the back row, I had finished reading the whole book. Yeah, ok. I needed a little attitude adjustment.

Of course, my novels have a plot. I wasn’t completely zoned out in English class. Beginning, middle, end. Conflict. Rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. They also have characters — strong ones, I might add. So here it is. I will tell you the plot – a short version. Right here. Right now.

As soon as I find a way to write it in a few sentences or less.

Fiery Arrow:

Premise (needs serious work):

Brigid, a gifted druid, must defend Ireland aginst the new Christian religion while facing her past, and her love, for the Christian leader, Patricius.

Plot (short version):

Brigid, a goddess in a past life, reincarnates to become a gifted druid who must fight the new religion of Christianity so the ancient gods of Ireland can survive. Through both lives, she has been in love with Patricius, believing he is the one who will help her save the old gods of Ireland. She struggles to keep her past life and love for Patricius a secret from Maithghean, an evil arch-druid who wants to control her powers.

Themes:
Survival, Love, Social Class

Eh. I should have paid more attention in English class. Is anyone grading this?

Put It Away

Writers, agents and editors frequently advise new writers to put their supposed completed manuscript away for several weeks or even months. Don’t look at it. Don’t touch it. Do something else. Write a new book. Bake cookies. Create a garden.

I thought I had taken that advice. I could put one manuscript down for a few days and work on the other. I’d alternate back and forth. Post a few chapters on the critique site…then let it go.

No, no, no,no.

For various reasons (well, really one major reason) I did not look at either manuscript for six full months. Did not look. Did not touch. Did not post for my critiquers. Six months.

A few weeks ago, I dug them up. Like an archaeologist, I evaluated the context of my computer, my jump drive, and thought “I wonder where those manuscripts could be?” Carefully, I unearthed each section, each folder and file.

Dusty files came to light. I opened each one, slowly, full of trepedation…and breathed a sigh of – what? I actually SENT this first chapter out in a query six months ago??!! Typos had reproduced during their time in hiding. Chapters jumbled themselves up again.

I sat back, shocked that I had once believed these manuscripts were polished, a little embarrassed that I might meet one of these agents at a future conference. Please, please let them forget my name.

I skimmed through the first chapter again. Not bad. Actually pretty good. Typos existed…but the plot, storyline and characters carried me away and I forgot that I was reading my own work.
I sighed in relief. It is time to polish.

For how long did you put your work away?

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