Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


How to Thicken the Plot….

I have been toying with the idea of pulling out of my archives the chapters of a novel I started about seven years ago.  I made it through eight chapters and then realized that I had written myself into a corner.  I had no idea on where to take the story and how to resolve it in a satisfying way.  I just chucked it all aside.

When I originally wrote the chapters, I was working from the position of letting the plot develop itself.  It is the idea that I have seen promoted by various writers and writing experts wherein the novelist intuitively knows where the plot should go and, like magic, the words just flow from the pen or keyboard in the direction of the plot. 

That position did not work very well for me. 

On the opposite end is the theory that the writer must very precisely set out the plot before starting to write.  There are tons of tools on the internet to support this manner of writing.  There are storyboarding tips and chapter analysis worksheets to download, and even software packages that somehow help you develop your plot with a click of a mouse.   A lot of folks have a lot to say about developing the formulae for successful novel.   Hmmmm…..I find the idea of developing a formula plot a bit constraining and not apt to produce a story that is original and unique.

I remember a poet commenting about the process of writing poetry.  In starting a poem sometimes “You set out for church, and find yourself at the dog races….”  (Naomi Shihab Nye)  So maybe the answer for me is somewhere in between.  I can attempt to lay out a plot, but be open for course corrections as my intuition directs me.   

So maybe I will open up those archives and give the novel another go.

If there are any fiction writers reading this, may I ask how you develop your plots?   Please comment below.  I am very interested in learning about your process. 




There is much to be said about the sweetness of doing nothing. Despite what guilt-ridden workaholics might say or think, it is imperative that we take a step back from time-to-time and let our bodies rest and our interior worlds be dormant.

According to traditional Chinese cosmology, our energetic bodies respond to seasonal energies. Spring and Summer are “yang” with life emerging and coming to fruition. Autumn and Winter are “yin”, a time of harvest and repose. (I have discussed this a bit at my “Return to the Garden” blog.)

For me, it is late Spring. My tomato and squash plants are a lively green with flowers and tiny fruit coming forth. My physical self is becoming more active and craving the sunny outdoors. My interior life is much the same. I survived a winter’s doldrum, where my spirit and emotions laid in frozen silence, but now I am starting to produce fruit again — through writing, art, and other expressive forms. And I ask myself “what more can I plant now?”

For those readers entering autumn, it is time to harvest and clear out the weeds. It is the time to become introspective and ask “what have I accomplished? What can I prepare for in the future?” It is the season to prepare your soil for the “greening” to come in a few short months. That greening, or viriditas, is more than mere mutability. Greening is a change towards outward expansion. So as our gardens grow, so do our souls and spirits.

Viriditas was a favorite theme of the Abbess Hildegard von Bingen. Much of her writing, art, and musical compositions were infused with this notion of abundant life. Sit back now and let her composition, O nobilissima viriditas, bring you to a lush, green place in your mind’s eye.

Start preparing your soil.

O most noble greenness, whose roots are in the sun,
and who shines with true serenity of light
on the wheel,
whom no earthly excellence
contains….    Hildegard von Bingen



We speak a lot about inspiration when we discuss creativity.  We discuss how ideas come to us, but something we do not often bring into that discussion is the notion of passion.    Once we get that idea, what do we do with it?   What is the motivation that carries us to final product?  What takes us through the process?

I know for myself that when I become inspired and get an idea for a bit of writing or an image, I cannot wait to get started.  If an idea blossoms,  I might be motivated to work until maybe one or two in the morning. Sometimes an idea will shake me awake at about three a.m.,  and I’ll write or art until the hour forces me to get dressed and leave for work.   Sometimes I’ll get to my job, and I can’t wait until my lunch break so I can continue working on the project.   When this passion fires up,  it  propels me through to the end.  Quite often the works that are forged by these fires are  some of the best pieces I have created.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk  (which you can view on the Just Nous blog),  she speaks about inspiration being a force outside of ourselves.  It is the daemon, the genius, or the transcendent reality that operates beyond the rim of our own internal world and supplies the ideas for our creative works.  Passion, on the other hand,  is that energy that comes AFTER we receive the inspiration.   I believe that passion is something we dig up from within and add to the mix.   We supply the fire that fuels our passion to the end.    We need both inspiration from without and passion from within if we are to truly engage in the creative process.

Below is another TED lecture.  This one is given by author Isabel Allende.  In her lecture,  she talks about this passion.  She talks about heart.  She asks “What is truer than truth?  The story,”  she answers.  Allende believes that the heart, which is the seat of passion, is the motivator by which stories are told and change is accomplished.

I invite you to listen to her remarks about passion and the creative process.


Do You Remember the Scene…

Do you remember that scene in the film Fried-Green Tomatoes when Evelyn Crouch (Kathy Bates) has an epiphany in the Winn-Dixie parking lot?  Do you remember how she plows her car into the rear-end of a VW Bug driven by a couple of insolent teenaged girls? In the next scene, she tells Ninny Threadgood (Jessica Tandy) “I never get mad, Miss Threadgoode, never, the way I was raised, it was bad manners. Well I got mad, and it felt great.”    

Evelyn found her personal power in a big way.

I recollected this movie scene yesterday as I was driving somewhere.  No, I did not crash my car into anyone — but I was in a downcast mood, re-playing  in my mind a recent situation where I felt like I was being treated like a doormat.   Just remembering this story made me feel a bit more empowered.

One of my quirky habits is that I often pop into my DVD player a favorite movie for no other reason than to fast-forward to certain scenes.  In retrospect, I think I do this when my emotional state requires it.   For example, I have noticed that when I am in a light-hearted mood or need a little push towards that mood, I will watch the “Midnight Margarita” scene in the film Practical Magic.   And when I am in a mood of righteous indignation, nothing resonates with me more than the scene in Much Ado About Nothing when Beatrice (Emma Thompson) rages at Benedick (Kenneth Branagh):

“Is he not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O
that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they
come to take hands; and then, with public
accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour,
–O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart
in the market-place.”

I would prescribe to anyone feeling like an underdog to watch a good horse-race movie.  (Seabiscuit comes to mind) and whenever you wonder if good will ever triumph over evil, then any splashy, epic blockbuster will fix you right up.  (Imagine Luke blowing up the Deathstar).     And I was recently reminded (at Just Nous) how the final scene in The Dead Poet’s Society is just what the doctor ordered whenever you find yourself wanting to “flip-the-bird” at Authority.

What is the reason for this?  I think it is part of human nature that we crave stories.  Certainly, stories are vehicles by which we transmit the values and belief systems of our respective cultures.  These stories can be told in many forms — word, writ, music, performance, and images — and in many venues — from oralizing around a campfire to a 3-D film at the local IMAX.

But I think stories also serve us on a personal, individual level.  I think stories have healing, transformative power.

I am reminded of the character Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) in the 1990’s television series, Northern Exposure.   Ed, an indigenous Alaskan, is a young film-maker.  He is also a shaman-in-training for his tribe.  In many episodes, viewers could find Ed counseling his friends, usually Dr. Fleishman (Rob Morrow), by reminding them of scenes from films.  That was Ed’s “medicine” which he practiced with great effect.

So what is the application for us today?  Broadly speaking, every human is part of the story-telling process as listeners or viewers.  In particular, we, as creatives,  are also part of the story-crafting process. Whenever we write a bit of prose or poetry, compose or perform music and songs, snap a photo, or paint an image, we become engaged in a transformative act for ourselves and for our audience.  Stories, by any means, are catalysts by which we all can experience transformation.

Now THAT’S powerful medicine.

ljg © 2012


A Polymath’s Ponderings

I learned a new word this week:   polymath.   A polymath is simply a person who has “learned much.”

It was in a moment of synchronicity that I discovered this word while trolling the internet. Just the day before, I was having dinner with a friend and, admittedly, I was jumping from one topic to another in our conversation. Finally, my friend suggested that I might want to overcome the habit of spouting too many “factoids” at people — (his word, not mine). At first I was a bit defensive. I was not trying to be a Hermoine-esque know-it-all. I was merely sharing what I thought were quite fascinating observations about life in general and our world in particular. My demeanor was one of excitement and joy, if anything, and certainly not one of insufferable condescension — at least I didn’t think so.

So, being the polymathic person that I am, I started pondering why some people are not at all interested in observing and exploring the world around them. To me it is the most fascinating thing in the world to plant a garden and watch in wonder as the seeds I planted sprout and emerge from the ground, or to gaze at the night sky and imagine the intelligent design that went into the organization of the universe. I drop my jaw in wonder as I read the stunningly crafted words of Shakespeare, Lao Tzu, and Moses and realize what a profound effect these writers had upon the world.

Why do some people like a Shakespeare make such a signficant mark?   I concluded that it must have to do with Imagination.

The realm of ideas and observations of the natural world need to be organized in order for them to make sense. It requires the imagination to do so. The imagination is the engine that fuels our intellectual, philosophical, artistic, spiritual, and technological evolution. The imagination is the realm wherein the “factoids” of the world can be transmuted into something that hitherto does not exist. The imagination is the realm of Creation. The great philosophers, theologians, artists, and scientists had an abundance of imagination and used it to ask questions, organize facts, find answers, and then Create.

As much as the imagination has to do with ordering the observable world, it is also a place to make sense of the un-observable.   I am reminded of a passage in the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.  One of the characters, Mary, tells her daughter Katie that it is imperative that she foster a sense of imagination in her granddaughter Francie:

““Because,” explained Mary Rommely simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which to live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

This last weekend I went to a Renaissance Faire. One might wonder why 12,000 people a day attend this confluence of Elizabethan costumes, food, drink, entertainment and revelry.  Sixteenth century England was  not necessarily a great place to be:  plague, war, poverty, oppression, religious persecution.  But it was also the age of exploration, discovery, artistic excellence, philosophical advance, and religious questioning.  It was one of history’s great ages of imagination.   Aside from the fact that the faire is a study of an age where the imagination was held in high esteem, it is also a place where some people, like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, can indulge in an escape into the imagination.   It is part of human nature to want to retreat into the refuge of the mind and soul.

So this polymath is going to continue to explore and expound upon the wonders of the natural world.  She is going to use the gift of her imagination to create new things.   Her joyful expression of her imagination is not going to be cowed by those who do not appreciate what we all have been given.  No, not at all.

“Spouting factoids”, my ass.

Miss Pelican,    (c) 2012