One of the things I try to do on a semi-regular basis, as a writer, is to read. This is, of course, a commonly-mentioned "thing you should do," but sometimes, in the limited hours and burning desire to finish what I'm writing instead of taking time away to "just read," I let myself off the hook. So yesterday afternoon, I dragged out our stack of Cricket Magazine back issues and had Michael bookmark some of his favorite stories from them while I checked out some non-fiction articles I've been meaning to read.
The non-fiction articles were on the subject of plot structure. When I first started writing, I struggled, HARD, with plot structure. As in, it was a familiar phrase but it didn't really mean anything to me. What was it? How did I use it? I mean, yeah... rising action, climax, falling action, denouement, yadda yadda yadda. But it didn't MEAN anything to me. So I spent a lot of time reading about structure and how to use it to shape a story. Which means that, at this point, I am pretty well read on plot structure. And part of my process for writing any story is to sit down and sketch out a structure for that story, to make myself think the story through enough to find all the necessary bits and pieces that will make it a story and not just a collection of cool imagery and/or dialogue.
I hadn't done that yet for "The Blue Wall," not in any concrete form, partly because I was still waiting to see if the Muse had anything new to add to the mix. So of course, as I was reading the articles, which covered information I already know even if I don't think specifically about it in those terms, the Muse inspired me to scribble down a plot structure diagram for "The Blue Wall" based on a slightly-different paradigm than the one I normally use. (But also very similar to the one I use. We did a "new" one for Crowmaker, too, and found that it matched up very nicely to the structure I already have in place for it. Which perhaps means I'm on the right track there.) I didn't get the plot structure for "The Blue Wall" in its entirety, but it gave me enough that I could feel the Muse in the background fiddling with the pieces.
At which point I took the stack of Cricket Magazines Michael had bookmarked for me and sat on the back deck in the awesome mild weather and read through the stories he'd picked out. Not all of them are the types of stories I would choose to write, although some were. But in reading the stories other people have written, I get the chance to both consciously pick apart how they did it and to subconsciously absorb the rhythm and flavor and feel of the stories--and I think, sometimes, that the subconscious portion of that process is just as important if not more so.
I jotted down a few more points on my diagram for "The Blue Wall" last night, in the midst of doing other things. And this morning I went to it first and jotted down a few more things. I discovered that the physical location of the story is right, but that the time period was wrong. I did additional research to get a grip on the setting and to inspire some additional details. And the Muse smiled and handed me a couple of complete passages to add to the existing rough draft, including one that contains echoes of the entire story's theme and gave me shivers.
All in all, a good day at the office. If I could manage to make a living at this, I would never, ever need to retire.