Drusilla Lockheart-Leary has given you a grammatical drubbing. (see previous post) Your misuse of the comma was only the beginning. She has dragged you through English grammar by your nose; administering irrigation to your colon and semi-colon, snipping your dangling participles, and ram-raiding the Oxford comma. This has resulted in you being so terrified of grammar that you decide not to use any at all. You have begun to write as one afflicted by unmedicated logorrhoea. In short, you have become the Home Counties Kerouac.
The Story so far
You are an aspiring writer whose desperation has forced you into the arms of those that run writing courses. It’ll only end in tears.
Terrified of turning up to Drusilla’s next class with your grammar-free writing assignment, you linger in a college corridor ,where your eye is taken by a poster for a rival class.
‘Pimp your Plot!’ is run by writing course magus, Bart Zeidegger. He guarantees you publication in ’10 Kick-Ass Stages’, or your money back. You practically run into his class.
Bart is terrifying in a wholly different way to Drusilla. He’s pepped, he’s stoked, he’s wired. He is either high on Adult Education coffee or he’s been snorting cocaine off a hooker’s stomach. You sit there feeling your pupils dilate while Bart expounds ‘Plot Pimping’. You learn that you will have to earn ‘the right to write’ and you do that only by understanding ‘structure’.
Today’s exercise is to condense your plot into a short paragraph, in your head.
‘If your plot cannot be described in one lucid paragraph then it’s not strong enough, if it’s not strong enough, basically it’s crap-ola,’ says Bart.
The startled class obediently begin their task, looking as though they are trying to overcome longstanding constipation, then Bart springs in front of an unsuspecting student and asks them for their paragraph. Before they can start he holds up a hand.
‘Make that a couple of sentences,’ he says.
We contemplate this. It’s impossible surely?
‘If you can’t summarise your plot in a couple of sentences, then what is it?’
The strange word ‘Crap-ola’ echoes silently around the room.
‘So how about you giving it a try?’
Bart Zeidegger has turned his bloodshot gaze on you and is lifting a quizzical eyebrow. You think about the plot of your novel. It is hopelessly complex and multi-layered, taking place in flashbacks with split narratives and multiple viewpoints. It’s a rambling, picaresque mess of a thing, about a group of friends, who just keep bumping into each other, over several decades, while stuff happens to them. You know that you can’t say this to Bart. He’ll take you down. You have been working on this novel for three years, and you’ve only just realised that you don’t know what the hell it’s about.
‘Come on now,’ Bart says, ‘ A literary agent would have called in his next appointment by now .’
Bart’s tone is taunting, impatient. He’s obviously ‘coming down’. You’ll have to think of another plot. But why, you wonder, does it have to be like this? You think of the great works of literature; how many of them would have passed Bart’s scrutiny? You imagine him asking Proust to pitch ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’ in a couple of sentences.
‘How many volumes Monsieur Proust? I’m sorry, not in this current economic climate, have you thought of Indie publishing?’
‘Mr Joyce, this day in Dublin, not exactly a plot is it? And can’t you make Bloom a more likeable character?’
‘Count Tolstoy; Anna Karenina is hot, Vronsky is a dude, but this business with the train, can’t you make the ending a little more positive?’
‘I’m still waiting.’ Bart wakes you from your imaginings with his other quizzical eyebrow.
In desperation, inspiration arrives. You look Bart in the eye and begin.
‘ Within the framework of just one day, beautiful Anna, unhappily married Russian aristocrat falls in love with Bloom, a shabby Irishman. Their love must die with the day, until they meet Marcel, a coughing Frenchman, who with the gift of a simple French cake offers them the means by which to escape time.’
Bart looks at you for a long time, then slowly nods.
‘Mmnnn, that’s high concept. Mixed genre. Now, that’s a book I might wanna read’