Keith Snyder
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Math is hard!

Remember the "Math is Hard" Barbie debacle? I knew a guy who did audio for those talking Barbies. He told me a woman came up with that one. At the time, I thought the fact was ironic, in some sense or other, but now I think women are unfortunately just as dumb as men.

Anyway, math isn't hard. Math is easy. All you have to do is memorize a couple rules, practice a little, and shazam, you're how-manying 4 into 23 as accurately as the finest minds in Araby.

Making stuff up; that's hard. Because there's no right or wrong, but there's still good and bad. You're supposed to get to the good. But no rules to tell you what that means. If you claim 23 ÷ 4 = 6 on a math test, you're wrong. If you create a fantastic plot, okey-doke characters, your descriptions are cliches, there's some funny stuff in there, and you make some good points in a lousy way... you might have a story sale. But you still won't know how you scored on the 23 ÷ 4 test, except that it's something more than X.

X = the amount of good it's got to be for publication. X is a variable. Trying to define X is like throwing imaginary darts at an invisible jet-propelled dart board. Not only don't you know where it is, what direction it's traveling in, or how fast it's going, but you can't tell if you hit it.

My reason for this post is simple. I'm avoiding writing. The index card outline has impressed several cafe employees, but does not impress me, because I know the difference between a row of index cards and a story. The latter requires causal chains and narrative patterns. The former requires that I spend $.89 in the CVS stationery department, arrange scribbles in a row, and stare literarily at them.

E.M. Forster's famous observation, including the part that usually gets cut, thus rendering the rest completely inscrutable:
Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. "The king died and then the queen died," is a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: "The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king." This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say: "And then?" If it is in a plot we ask: "Why?" That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel. A plot cannot be told to a gaping audience of cave-men or to a tyrannical sultan or to their modern descendant the movie-public. They can only be kept awake by "And then--and then----" They can only supply curiosity. But a plot demands intelligence and memory also.
A series of index cards that say "He goes to the place." "She gets the thing." "The werewolves come." That's not a plot. At this point, I've got a bunch of things I want in this book... but they're not plot. They're just things I want in this book, and some of them are entirely arbitrary. It starts in 1959. Why? Because a brand new black 1959 Cadillac De Ville kicks ass.

So now I've got all this timeline stuff to fight against, because the span of this story is most of someone's life. I haven't been able to twist all the story needs and real-world events around it--and that 1959 date isn't negotiable. Because the car's cool.

Shuffle enough of these things into your stack of index cards, and Why gets way tricky--not to mention that son-of-a-bitch How.

So here's my lesson, because I can't end something like this without flipping a wrench at you. The lesson is twofold.

Fold 1: If each index card doesn't have WHY on the left side and THEREFORE on the right, with something notated under each, it's not a plot card. It's just a cool thing.

Fold 2: There's no effin' way I can do that using just the awesome power of my amazing mind. This plot has gaps in it. By "gaps," I mean "This process is without pattern or purpose to a such a significant degree that the result is not a story." The bridge is out. There is no way through. I can't solve this on index cards. I've tried.

I'll throw another famous quote at you, from E.L. Doctorow:
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

I'd love to talk about this longer, but you're keeping me from my writing.


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