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Andromeda: plot?

49 Writers - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 9:53am

This blogpost originally ran in February 2012. For the next two weeks, I'll be continuing to work on a novel revision, and for me, that means re-thinking all of my own questions and provisional answers about character, plot, language and more. In that spirit, please accept this re-run.
“Psssst. Let’s talk about plot.”

No, I didn’t say pot, I said plot.

So why am I whispering?

I once heard a sharp writer and really good teacher talk about visiting an MFA program and having an older, dignified teacher inform her: “We don’t talk about plot here.”

Which is why the writer wasn’t entirely surprised when a student approached in the hallway, wanting to talk—furtively—about this untalked-about thing called plot. The student knew she needed some. She just wasn’t sure how to get some.

Even writers who plot very conventionally try to distance themselves from the word and the subject. Stephen King, of all people, says “plot is shifty … and best kept under house arrest.”More elitist writers don’t even want you to ask them about it. As I’ve blogged here, one very successful author recently told me, “I have no interest in plot or character.” Wow, not plot or character? If that leaves only artfully selected (but possibly unarranged) words ripped free of any sense of development or arc, I already own some great dictionary and thesaurus sets, thank you.

Readers love plot—by which I mean a story that is organized into a sequence of causes and effects, generally producing some sort of meaning and hopefully an intellectual and/or emotional experience.

Yet some writers are threatened by it.

They are threatened most, I think, because of a misunderstanding. When people hear “plot,” they think “pre-plotting”: coming up with a rigid and formulaic game plan, perhaps sketched out on a series of note cards. (Of course, there are successful literary writers—and many screenwriters—who do exactly that.)

But learning about plot doesn’t always mean pre-plotting. It often means reading for plot, as a way of training one’s brain to have a better intuition for structures our culture has honored for thousands of years. And also revising for plot, in other words, looking back at where a story implodes or just sags, loses tension, or fails to satisfy, and seeing if the plot or a related aspect of character development is to blame.

I’m always on the lookout for metaphors that relate to writing. My favorite is the one credited to E.L. Doctorow: Writing is like driving a car on a foggy night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but that’s enough to get you there. So true!

And yet, in that metaphor, the road already exists. That’s why you can just hug the yellow line and keep the gas pressed down. Whoops. When we write, we usually don’t have a road in front of us. We have an unpaved landscape stretching in all directions, with way too many options and lots of obstacles and hazards in our way.

Let’s say, then, that novel or memoir writing is more like hiking up a mountain, over the tundra. We’re talking an easy, leisurely hike – not a technical fast climb, not something requiring special equipment and lots of people who will need to collaborate. (That would be screenwriting.)First, let’s admit that most of us can at least, usually, see where we’re aiming: a peak or ridgeline. If it’s totally fogged in, we may have some trouble. But generally, I hike when I can see at least part of the way and glimpse some landmarks that correspond with either map or memory.

When we write novels, most of us have not figured out “what it’s all about” (thank goodness)—but we may have a revealing scene from the middle or the end or some sort of image or central tension guiding us. I often have a scene I’m really itching to write that doesn’t come at the very beginning. Someone else might just have a feeling, a question, an indecipherable symbol. Something. At the very least we have our own taste: a preference for the way some other novels or memoirs are ordered.

If you have that place or feeling for which you are aiming—and even if you don’t, but are well stocked with food, water, patience, and time, you can pretty much get to the top putting one foot in front of the other.

Once you’re there, open up the granola, share the cheese and crackers. Hooray!

Now look back, and look down, and you see what you did. There is that patch of thick brush you hacked through not realizing that if you’d just walked further west, you could have found flatter, easier terrain. There is that spot on the ridge you aimed for, thinking it was the peak, not realizing that it was just a trick of perspective—a false peak. There is that creek you crossed, soaking your pants to the thighs (and now you really are quite chilly), not seeing that off to the side of the valley, there is a bridge, or a shallow braided area.

Your route was not ideal. Your path was illogical or unshapely. As a hiker, you can make a mental note and try a different route next time. As a writer, you realize that route and plot (also called suzhet by the Russian formalists) are related—they are the way the material is ordered, the way a place and story are experienced and perceived. And they are in your control. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

You realize, because you have read a lot and even learned about three-act structure and some other things, that you better not waste so much time in the alder mess of that first fifty pages. Slash-slash-slash. Delete. Is the conflict clearer now? Is there a conflict at all, perhaps an outer and an inner one? (I hope so.) Do we care from the beginning? Does the structure itself communicate a level of confidence to the reader?

You realize that the middle is where a lot of energy, time, and readers get lost. It sags because of digressions. On the way up, you were just route-finding; you didn’t realize they were digressions. Now you do. Be more selective. Also look for opportunities to sharpen up symbol and theme. If you stumbled into a discovery (what a beautiful little lake hidden away between those rocks!) then clear up your signaling; make that discovery feel more purposeful, or at least frame it better by getting rid of all the dull stuff.

The end, also known as the part that people will remember even more than the beginning: does it feel like an arrival? Has the ending spoken to and overturned the beginning? Do we have a clear new view we’ve never had before? And if not—why all this climbing? I could have stayed home! Show me something surprising or spectacular! Make me weep, or rejoice, or puzzle—but at least puzzle meaningfully, in a way I couldn’t have puzzled before! (Ambiguous endings are still endings.)

This is plot. It isn’t anti-literary. It isn’t threatening or scary or antithetical to art, any more than a musical melody is. We are pleased for a reason. Our brains crave order and meaning, also known as -- you got it -- plot.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour, as well as a forthcoming novel, Behave. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.
Categories: Arts & Culture

a poem that nobody can understand

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 10:15am
“I’d like to be on record as saying that anybody can write a poem that nobody can understand.” –Ted Kooser Thanks Ted, time to distill some of my recent work which are perhaps examples of the types of poems anybody can write. Time to focus on what it is about Billy Collins, David Budbill and […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Jimmy Riordan: Juneau Salon 12/12

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Sun, 11/30/2014 - 12:25pm
I’m excited to announce another unique opportunity for the Juneau writing/arts community. A mutual friend Jeremy Pataky (who has a wonderful new poetry collection, Overwinter out on UA Press ) sent Jimmy Riordan my way and I’m so glad he did. If you: follow my blog, are in Juneau, and are interested in attending, leave […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Keep it simple

What Turtle Blood Tastes Like - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 12:22pm
keep it simple, a song to sing along to or at least to hear to feel inside heart inside house or outside on trail, path don’t look too far beyond what’s on path in front of you above you around you falling from the sky hanging from the trees flitting on feathered wings from branch […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

What Are Spinning Pads?

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 9:40am

Hand-sewn spinning pads by Clarissa Rizal

As some of you know, we spin our warp (the vertical yarn on loom) on our thighs.  In the old days, we spun on our bare thigh, though because the cedar bark can tend to be rough, it can take the first layer of skin off, so therefore when women began to wear pants, spinning warp on blue jeans was the relief, though the blue dye from the jeans bled into the color of the warp.  However, there are some of us weavers who are innovative!  This invention that I’ve used for nearly 30 years, is from the late Phoebe Warren, grand-daughter to Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut (my weaving teacher back in 1986)

Above is an example of a spinning pad I’ve made and plan on having for sale at the Juneau Public Market Thanksgiving weekend 2014. When spinning Chilkat or Ravenstail warp, these pads save the life of your jeans, they keep your leg from getting all wet (and cold!), they are smooth so no wrinkles to obstruct your spinning process and there is no residue of color bleeding into your warp…!

Categories: Arts & Culture

Juneau Public Market: Buttonblanket Greeting Cards

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 8:44am

6 of 9 Button blanket robe designs by Clarissa Rizal on greeting cards

The greeting cards above will be some of the items available for sale at the Alaska-Juneau Public Market held Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend in Juneau, Alaska.

I invite you to visit my Booth ‪#‎P‬-15  right across the isle from Tony Tengs “Chilkat Cones” in the main hall of Centennial Hall.  And please note:  I will be sharing the booth with Tlingit carving artist & silversmith, Israel and Sue Shotridge (

The following is an inventory of items for sale; they include (but are not limited to):

A limited supply of Chilkat weaving and spinning supplies:  Cedar bark without the sap (both whole and split), Chilkat warp, Chilkat weft yarns in golden yellow, turquoise, black and cream, spinning pads, etc.

Books for sale that I wrote, made or co-illustrated include:  “Chilkat Pattern Templates”, the “Chilkat Weavers’ Handbook”; Juneauite author Hannah Lindoff children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” — and books that I highly recommend:  “The Intenders” by Tony Burroughs and “Go Pro – Becoming A Network Marketing Professional” by Eric Worre.

Miscellaneous items include:  hand-caste paper feathers, limited edition Giclee prints, hand-sewn, beaded, felt Russian Sailor hats,  and gumboot shell earrings made by daughter Lily and sister Dee Lampe.

Come check out my latest 5-piece Chilkat woven ensemble called “Chilkat Child” which will be on display next to my daughter Lily’s 4-piece Ravenstail woven ensemble “Little Watchman.”

We’ll see you in a couple of weeks during the weekend of Thanksgiving at the Public Market in Juneau (Friday, Saturday and Sunday)!

Categories: Arts & Culture

That feared midnight when your teenager needs to submit that last math assignment and he just can’t get it right

Juneau Public Library Blog - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 3:00pm
And of course, you don’t remember that stuff anymore….. Worry not! The library can help you! Even at midnight? Yes! Go to the library’s webpage ( and find the Homework Center under the research tab. From there you will be able to access the Live Homework Help, with live tutors from 12:00 pm (noon) to […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Clarissa’s Winter Schedule: Art Markets, Presentations, Demos, Classes

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 6:22am

Charcoal by Clarissa Rizal

Here’s my Winter Schedule for upcoming Art Markets, presentations, classes and demonstrations.  If you are in any of these locations, come by and visit; I’d love to see you!

1) One-day Chilkat/Ravenstail Weaving Class, Juneau, Alaska, Sunday November 23rd, 10am-4pm with potluck lunch — this class is for experienced weavers who have a project on their loom and need assistance, comraderie, support and a feast!  Class is limited to just 10.  The Northwest Coast Weavers’ Supply will have weaving/spinning items available for sale BEFORE the Public Market sales; so you will have the privilege to be the first to purchase your supplies for your next weaving project  —   Interested?  Give me a call at 970-903-8386 or email me at:

2)  Alaska-Juneau Public Market, Thanksgiving weekend Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, November 28-30th, Booth #P-15 in the main room of Centennial Hall on Willoughby Avenue in Juneau, Alaska – Click here to see the list of some of the items I will have available for sale

3)  Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon Presentation of “The Making of Resilience Chilkat Robe”, Friday, December 5th; I will also have Chilkat-related items available for sale AND I will have two woven ensembles on display only during this presentation

4)  Evergreen Longhouse, Olympia, WA,  — The Holiday Market is open Friday and Saturday, December 12 & 13; I will only be selling on Saturday! —  Click here to see a list of some of the items I will have for sale.

5)  “Raven’s Nest” Gallery (owned by Sue and Israel Shotridge), Vashon Island, WA — I will be demonstrating Chilkat weaving on a child-size robe; I will also have on display two child-size woven ensembles, “Little Watchman” a 4-piece Ravenstail outfit woven by my daughter Lily Hope, and my 6-pience ensemble  “Chilkat Child.”  I will also have items for sale as well; click list here to see list of some items.

6)  Chilkat Weaving Class, Corvallis, OR – December 15-19th; for experienced weavers with a project on their loom. — This class is currently full.

7)  Heard Museum Juried Indian Art Market & Fair, Phoenix, AZ – March 7-9, 2015

Categories: Arts & Culture

Preparing For Winter Art Market Sales

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 6:31am

Clarissa prints limited edition Giclee’s on her large format, ink jet Epson 7880; this is the first time she has enjoyed printing in the 5 years she has owned this machine!  (Grand-daughter Amelie points to the photo of “Resilience” Chilkat robe)

Shrink wrapping Clarissa’s limited edition Giclee prints, to be marketed during this Winter season 2014-15

This past week has been a bit nutty — While printing limited editions of some of my work, I’ve been cutting out and sewing spinning pads, splitting bark, spinning warp, designing a log for the Northwest Coast Weavers’ Supply, making travel arrangements, etc. etc. including but not limited to, the joy of holding a newborn granddaughter and of course time out with her older sister, Amelie!


Categories: Arts & Culture

Official Presentation of “Resilience” Chilkat robe

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 5:56am

Many, many braids in weaving “Resilience” Chilkat robe by Clarissa Rizal – 2014

HEADS UP!  For those of you living in the Portland, Oregon area:  I will be doing a public presentation on Chilkat weaving and a Power Point Presentation of weaving my latest Chilkat robe “Resilience” at the Portland Art Museum on Friday evening, December 5, 2014 at 5:30pm.  Guitarist extraordinaire Dan Shanks, will be performing the live soundtrack. —  If you are in the area, come on by!  Two woven Child-size ensembles, one in Ravenstail and the other in Chilkat, be on display only during this presentation.  Also, I will have a few things available for sale:  my Chilkat Weaving Handbook, greeting cards, Chilkat prints, etc. See you soon!

Categories: Arts & Culture

So you want to learn Icelandic and you don’t know where to start…

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sat, 11/08/2014 - 2:11pm
What about your library’s website? The Juneau Public Libraries’ website is a point of access to Mango Languages, an interactive and fun program for language learning; and free for Alaskans! Moreover, Mango languages doesn’t only give you access to the most popular languages, like Spanish or French. It includes up to 64 languages, and you […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Juvenile Literature Reviews, September 2014 meeting

Juneau Public Library Blog - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 9:17am
Volunteers and librarians read and discuss new books for young readers. Andrew Draws   Written and illustrated by David McPhail I liked when the animals jumped right out of the pictures. I didn’t like the long hair on the boy. I would recommend this to others. I would like to tell the author that I like […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Chilkat Warp Trick-of-Trade

Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 5:52am

Washed Chilkat warp is pulled tight and set out to dry

Here’s a trick-of-the-trade to create smoother, more even Chilkat or Ravenstail warp with no give: after you wash your warp, pull tight as you wrap the warp around the back of a chair — let dry thoroughly, then groom.

Why do you want a smother, move even warp with no give?  When you are weaving your weft yarns over this warp, you will notice a less bumpy, more evenly-laid fabric.

Periodically I post various tricks-of-the-trade in regards to spinning, weaving, designing or anything else I may think of to post here on my blog for all you wonderful artists/craftspeople out there in the world!–for more tricks, check out “Tools-of-the-Trade in the column to the right…

Categories: Arts & Culture

Libros en español en la biblioteca

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 3:07pm
¿Sabìa usted que las bibliotecas municipales tienen libros en español tanto para niños como para adultos? Si nunca los ha encontrado acèrquese al mostrador y pregunte a los bliotecarios, ellos estaràn encantados de ayudarle a encontrar libros en español tanto para usted como para sus niños.
Categories: Arts & Culture

Reviews of Juvenile Literature, Summer 2014

Juneau Public Library Blog - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 12:33pm
Reviews of a variety of new books for young readers. Being Sloane Jacobs written by Lauren Morrill This “Prince and the Pauper” story is fairly predictable in terms of resolution, but still, the journey to that resolution is thoroughly enjoyable. Two young women named Sloane Jacobs—one the daughter of a senator, the other the daughter […]
Categories: Arts & Culture

Superintendent speaks out about student privacy rights

Juneau School District Announcements - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 1:40pm

Supe's On  - Welcome to the Superintendent's Blog

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Categories: Arts & Culture

School District Report on Investigation into Hazing

Juneau School District Announcements - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 3:35pm

The Juneau School District has concluded our investigation into allegations that on or about May 30-31 of this year a group of incoming senior boys hazed/initiated a group of incoming freshmen boys by paddling them multiple times.

These events were first brought to our attention in early June. At that time the district began an initial investigation, which, due to an active police investigation and summer vacation, was put on hold. When we were informed that the police had concluded their investigation we resumed our efforts.

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Categories: Arts & Culture


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