Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Plotting does not come easy for me. It's one of my weaknesses. As a new writer, I searched for the right plotting device. I took a class that showcased Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. I also invested a weekend and a lot of money in a plotting workshop that used movies as a way to build a successful plot. Both offered some admirable assistance, but nothing helped me more than Robert J. Ray's The Weekend Novelist. If you dropped my copy on the floor, the pages would flip to the chapter on Aristotle's Incline.

I discovered Ray's book while I was rewriting My Louisiana Sky. It was after the book had sold and I was facing a major revision. My editor pointed out that the middle and the ending didn't work. I agreed, but I didn't know how to face the monumental task. The Weekend Novelist rescued me. I threw a hundred pages away, did some more research and began to rewrite.

It's a funny thing how closely connected we all are. In Ray's bio I read that he lived in Washington state. Soon after my book was published he came to Amarillo and taught a workshop which I attended. After it was over, I saw a friend of mine standing in the back of the room. She'd been my daughter's theater director since Shannon was eight years old.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I'm waiting for my cousin," she said, "Bob Ray."

Robert J. Ray had grown up in Amarillo.

Below are a couple of pages from my When Zachary Beaver Came to Town notebook where I used Aristotle's Incline to plot the book. Ray explains the device in a simple clear way. For me, it works best after I write a first draft. The rough draft of Zachary Beaver was horrible--broken threads and unrealistic plot points. When I finally realized that my problem was in the plot, I started to rethink the story using this plotting device. After this step, the story started slowly falling into place.

I didn't add the opening and wrap-up scenes on the plot lines. They were the same for all the plots and I'd already figured out those two scenes. (Please double-click for a better view of these pages. You probably can't read my writing anyway, but please don't copy these pages without my permission. Thank you.)

The Weekend Novelist also helped inspire another story. In one chapter, Ray suggests stepping inside your character's closet to get to know her better. When I realized one of my characters had a costume hanging in hers, Dancing in Cadillac Light was born.

Tomorrow we'll meet the man behind these powerful writing tools when Robert J. Ray allows us a glimpse inside his work life at home. Please join us for this AUTHOR AT HOME profile.


  1. Unmerited grace is a very nice way of describing this thing that seems such a dreadful drear.



  2. Dreadful drear? Not most days, I hope. Although some days it sure enough is. Thanks for dropping by, Garry. Happy writing.