Lightning Strikes Twice

by wjw on July 19, 2008

Yesterday I participated in a “plotbreak” session, in which I and some other writers got together to help plot another writer’s book— or in this case, series.

This is one of the tools that our local writers’ group uses to, well, make our books so damn good. We had six creative minds contributing in the matter of character arcs, act-outs, pacing, themes, plot points, and even symbolism. We took a story that was really promising and made it solidly, terrifically good. We jettisoned one point-of-view character who didn’t have enough to do and replaced him with another. We worked out why battle swine are a good investment. We explained why you should always shoot the guy with the megaphone. And we worked out a way for doing double-entry bookkeeping with magic.

We had some pretty high-powered people at this affair. Melinda Snodgrass, Daniel Abraham, Ian Tregillis, Victor Milan, Ty Franck, and me. Carrie Vaughn drove all the way from Denver to participate (and to do some vacation-realted stuff, too). We’re all really freaking good at this.

The thing that is most required in one of these sessions is that you shouldn’t bring your ego along. If you’re one of the writers who insists that no other human should tamper with your perfect prose, or lay sticky gooey fingers on your sacred ideas, you probably won’t have a good time at one of these. Having half a dozen other writers telling you what’s wrong or incomplete with your story can be a little . . . intimidating.
‘Cuz, y’know, our loyalties in this affairs are to the story, not to the writer. That’s what it’s about, making the book better. It’s like any other kind of honest workshop.

To make it work we also have to have an honest audience for the results. Those who participate in the plotbreak aren’t the best people for this— we have a bias in favor of our own ideas, and when it comes to plot, we pretty much know what’s going to happen next. You need a control group to read with minds unbiased by the process. So only a part of the local group participated, the rest will make their mark in reading the actual books.

And, let’s face it, plotting is only a small part of the process. The poor writer still has to write the series. And that is done while alone, staring into a monitor while trying not to be distracted by the cat/the family/the election news. The writer is the one who makes it brilliant, not the rest of us.

While this was going on, a lightning storm began. We were taking a break, so we walked out on the covered back porch to watch the downpour. Ian even walked out into the rain.

“Hey, Ian,” said Ty. “If you’re hit by lightning, be sure to scream so we know to help you.”

“Will do,” said Ian.

Eventually the downpour increased and even Ian returned to the shelter of the porch. Carrie and Ty were on the porch swing. And then—


What I saw was a huge bright sizzle of electricity shooting down the metal stanchion holding up a corner of the porch, just a short distance behind where Ty and Carrie were swinging. Ty saw electricity dancing along the metal strip on the edge of the porch roof. Chunks of wood and debris began raining down from the tree next to the porch. Lights in the house went out.

The thunderclap was enormous. I, who was standing, raised one knee and crouched into a semi-fetal position while holding my hands over my ears.

We all decided to go indoors. Ty and Carrie were lucky they weren’t holding on to the metal chains holding up the porch swing.

As we reconstructed it later, the thunderbolt hit the tree next to the porch and blew up, but did not actually knock down, one of the higher limbs. It then jumped to the corner of the porch and conducted itself along all things metal until it descended into the soaked ground. There were smoky chunks of wood found on the lawn later.

It was probably an omen, but we’re not sure of what.

  • We plan a new series, and
  • The gods hurl a lightning bolt.

Is this thing a good thing or a bad thing? Is the series doomed, or will it strike lightning in the marketplace.

One good thing, I assured everone, is that now we’re all going to get some really neat superpowers!

qtera July 19, 2008 at 11:24 pm

I already know all of you have superpowers! And, that you are a Norse god capable of calling down lightning. So I am guessing Ian did not scream for help.


Responsible Artist July 20, 2008 at 2:52 am

It’s certainly an omen that your workshop is more exciting than most.

Anonymous July 20, 2008 at 6:46 pm

I found out last night that it also blew up their chimney. As in, actually blew up some of the bricks and hurled pieces into the neighbors yard. So it sounds like most of the juice went down that path, and that may be why we didn’t get more fried.


dubjay July 20, 2008 at 6:54 pm

I noticed the chimney had some cracks in it, but I assumed they weren’t recent.

Hadn’t noticed any parts actually missing, though.

Ian July 21, 2008 at 7:23 pm

So I am guessing Ian did not scream for help.

Scream? No! I tossed my head back and let loose with laughter. Manly, manly laughter. Then I shook my fist at the sky, calling, “Thor, you disgrace yourself yet again! Your aim is terrible and your mighty war-cry is less than fully intimidating!”

At no point did I curl into a ball. Anyone who suggests otherwise is spreading lies.

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