Deb Rachel Wants To Know Her Next Plot

2012 Debutante Rachel BertscheThe problem with writing memoirs is that you’re confined to the truth. I hear writers talk all the time about how they have the plots for their next five novels filed away in their brains, be it a vision of a single scene from which the whole book will blossom, or a big thematical question that will drive the story. For me, it doesn’t work that way.

Since MWF Seeking BFF is in the “project memoir” genre (not sure I love that term, but we’ll use it for now) I could, I guess, just continue to come up with project-related ideas and see what happens. Spend the year not wearing pants! Dye my hair a different color every month! But that doesn’t really address what I hope to do with my writing, which is to highlight the issues I’m dealing with—the ones I think others might be too—and share my personal story in hopes of saying aloud that which, perhaps, we’re all thinking but are too embarrassed to admit.

What this means, of course, is that sometimes I have to wait for a plot to reveal itself. Maybe the revelation is in the form of memories that, when looked at together, actually form a story of their own. Or maybe it’s like MWF, where I have a problem I can’t shake and think,”ok, I guess I’ll have to conquer this now.”

In either case, when it comes down to writing the actual book, plotting is about sitting down, looking at the pieces of truth, and fitting them together like a puzzle. You want a good mix of scene setting, real dialogue and inner dialogue, but you also need to make sure that the stories you’re telling have a larger message. A memoir can’t be “I went to the grocery store, then I came home, then I went to sleep.” Unless you are Snooki, or someone famous enough that people just want to know that you do your own food shopping. If you’re, you know, me, people only care what you did if it will, in some small way, teach them about themselves.

Sometimes I find it extra-frustrating that I don’t have five book ideas filed away. But I also think writing memoirs keeps me engaged in my own life. It forces me to pay special attention to the issues that get lodged in my brain, to see which ones might play out into a story. And it adds a bit of excitement to the moments when I wonder where life will take me. Because, right now, I have no idea where I’ll be by book three–I don’t know what my story will be. I might know what I hope it will be, but life rarely goes according to plan.

And there’s something poetic to the notion of waiting for your life, your plot, to unfold.

What is the life event that, even when living it, made you think: This could be my next plot? 

4 Replies to “Deb Rachel Wants To Know Her Next Plot”

  1. “…plotting is about sitting down, looking at the pieces of truth, and fitting them together like a puzzle.”

    I love this analogy! As a fact-based writer, you have a harder job putting together those plot puzzles than fiction writers. If a piece isn’t fitting right for me, I can just shave it, snip it, or pound it in to make it fit. *grin*

    I actually use all sorts of life events, from the mundane to the horrifying, in my plots. I warp them, of course, or use pieces of them put together in different ways. Fiction writing for me is a Frankenplot of life events (my own and others’).

  2. A great post! As always, Rachel, it is so wonderful to get your perspective from a non-fiction side.

    Like Linda said, I too draw from EVERYTHING–no matter how bland or dramatic, it seems there is always a germ in every experience that might come in handy later (Names will always be changed, friends–rest assured! 😉 )

  3. A lovely piece. As a fiction writer, I’m kind of in your boat! Unlike all my contemporaries, I get a book idea about once every two years! If I’m writing one, I can rarely think of a new idea at the same time. I don’t have an idea folder because there wouldn’t be anything in it!

  4. It’s so funny that you wrote this. I’m far enough along in your book to realize that it’s helping me as I look at my female relationships. Is that what you intended to do with the book? I’m thinking yes as I read your post.

    So now I’m curious…..if you are mentioning book 3, does that mean that book 2 is moving along? I apologize if I missed that little piece of information during my google stalking you.

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